Just 19 years old, Amanda Shaw has already spent much of her life as a major star in her native Louisiana, where the state government named her the Emerging Cultural Leader of 2009. In looking to make some national-level waves with her latest album, Good Southern Girl, Shaw proves to be a most capable ambassador for the musical traditions of her home state. A truly first-rate arranger, Shaw uses the breakneck energy of Cajun music as the backbone to a more expansive take on contemporary country and pop.
As a deliberate aesthetic choice, it’s refreshing and relatively novel. Mary Chapin Carpenter took “Down at the Twist and Shout” to the top of the country charts, and the Mavericks made “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” into a moderate radio hit using a style similar to what Shaw has developed here, but those were one-off singles. Instead, Shaw takes the ideas presented in those songs and runs with them. The overall sound of Good Southern Girl isn’t terribly far removed from the better acts in contemporary pop-country, but the organic and inspired manner in which Shaw and producer Tina Shoemaker incorporate those strong Cajun influences, along with occasional flourishes of Delta blues, Southern soul, and jazz-like improvisation, makes for an immediately distinctive sound.
The album’s strongest moments are those in which Shaw conveys both a sense of humor and swagger. “What Time You Comin’ Home” boasts Shaw’s most playful vocal turn and the album’s most traditional country leaning arrangement, while the singer growls and yelps her way through “Johnny Can’t Dance,” a fantastic Zydeco-flavored romp. With her expressive but not-quite-ripe contralto, Shaw is able to sell the spirited uptempo material more convincingly than she can a ballad like “One Night Stand,” but she makes a game effort. Shaw is also a phenomenal fiddler, and instrumental cuts like “The Meek Maids Reel” give her ample opportunity to show off her considerable chops. Having been tagged an official cultural leader might have been daunting to some young artists, but Good Southern Girl proves that Shaw is a fearless, whip-smart young talent worth following.