Amanda Shires - Carrying Lightning
“April was the last time I think I saw you, you were carrying lightning / The way you walked into the room, if I was a flower I would've opened up and bloomed” (‘Swimmer…’)
Lucid, lyrical and true: Amanda Shires has an impeccable way with words. Her command of language, it's a quiet marvel. Against a backdrop not so radical (country figures, acoustic laments, brushed snare, the swoop of her own violin), the young Texan displays uncommonly sophisticated poetics. Covering most of the usual bases, from ‘I’m so goddarn in love with you, honey’ to ‘Get out of my sight, you pitiful loser’, she illuminates intimate tales with a spark of soured romanticism and wordplay as elegantly simplistic as it is complex. Shires sings with beautiful, unforced ease and Carrying Lightning is a collection that is eminently quotable.
If the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Lindi Ortega are picking up the cow gal baton for a new generation, Shires joins a select but ever expanding group. Too many highlights make it hard to pinpoint favourites. Let’s see what else challenges the opening ‘Swimmer…’ for legs-akimbo, heart-on-fire abandon, shall we? There’s the unexpectedly bleak ‘When You Need A Train It Never Comes’, where Shires muses on love in ruins and considers the darkest escape: “Was dreaming I was tied to a train track twisting in the sun, burning up hoping the trains hadn't quit rolling / I was ready for it to be done… but when you need a train it never comes.” What becomes of the broken-hearted? Well, they pick themselves up, dust themselves down and throw themselves back into the whole stoopid game again. Shires’ tales of woe burn bright: the devastatingly compassionate ‘Bees In The Shed’ (“You don't need to cry, there's no reason to cry / Sure it stings for a minute, but it all goes by…”) is not for the faint-hearted, neither is ‘Kudzo’, a shimmering ballad torn from the back pages of the great American songbook. Its “and it’s true all the flowers sigh” refrain channels Judy Garland in much the same way as Nicole Atkins' ‘Neptune City’. Moments like this make the odd misfire - the uninvolving rawk-out of ‘She Let Go Of Her Kite’ - seem inconsequential.
In a set that sparks from the off, she still saves the best till last. You couldn’t even contemplate a song called ‘Lovesick I Remain’ without a working knowledge of Emily Dickinson: a skittering and askew muse aloud on unthinkable desire, it’s vivid and unbearably self-aware. “The thought of your impossible eyes,” she sings, “it’s like I’ve been sewn to the walls of my room.” Oh my. Carrying Lightning is sterling work and, on its own very deliberate terms, a real piece of work: you wouldn’t mess with it. In common with much of its many thrilling contradictions and shimmering side roads, it’s quietly explosive. It leaves a crater in your heart the size of a desert.