Amanda Shires seems to be the sort of sweet, Southern girl that all boys should be warned about, at a certain age, for her songs lead us to believe that she'll never let anyone trample all over her. She might not even let you walk beside her. She has a strong and strident nature that skates the feeling of all WOMAN and all bad ass, at the same time. She's a rascal. She can yearn for one of those tuck-in-early nights or throw the short skirt on and hit the tavern to make a good dent on a deep bottle.
It's emotional matter that has been wounded and rubbed with salt enough times that it's been conditioned to exist differently - neither soft, nor hardened. It's been written in a few places that she shares a vocal likeness with Dolly Parton, at times, and while it's absolutely an astute observation, it's Parton's proud, bullish and no nonsense attitude and philosophy - deadly effective when partnered in turn with good looks, big hair, bright lipstick and the rest - that are just as appropriate to point out as similarities.
The songs that Shires -- who is Jason Isbell's better half -- writes, take men to task for their behavior and on "I Kept Watch Like Doves," she portrays the protagonist as a woman not about to put up with a man who's been unfaithful. She's a woman with eyes on birds everywhere, able to get wherever her cheating man is heading off to or coming back from and no one's fooling anyone. She sings, "Yeah, I'm asking questions/Come clean/I'm warning you, her perfume's strong," pleading, very sweetly, very foxily, for her man to come right out and tell her what kinds of snaky things he's been up to. Denial is just going to make her madder. It's not an option and she sounds as if she might be as unpredictable and desirable as they come - beautifully dangerous - ready to throw some chloroform into a dude's coffee or willing to give her loyal man the best nights of his or her life.
The man that she lets into her weeded and well-tended garden comes in an fucks it all up. She knows she led him here and she will take as much of the blame that's hers. She saw the storms in his eyes. They were as attractive and radiating as they were hazardous and she's been around long enough to see the signs, but she won't allow her garden to stay the way he left it. There will be a clean-up and she'll regain her control and those cleanly spaced rows and the dirt that will grow something wonderful if the right amount of attention is paid it.
*Essay originally published April, 2011