When New Orleans-based singer, songwriter, bandleader, and fiddle player Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys take the stage, it's an incongruous sight. Shaw turned 16 in 2007, but the boys in the band -- drummer Mike Barras, guitarist Brint Anderson, and bassist Ronnie Falgout -- are long-time vets. The youngest Cute Guy is 45, and they've been playing with Shaw since she was a ten-year-old prodigy. Shaw's a classically trained violinist who decided to play traditional Cajun dance music shortly after her debut performance with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra. In the years since she started playing with the Cute Guys she's become a fixture at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Her third CD, I'm Not a Bubblegum Pop Princess, has sold enough copies to remain on the Festival's Top Ten list since 2003. Her eclectic taste -- the band plays traditional Cajun dance music, rock, country, and funk-flavored R&B -- has made her a favorite in her hometown and won her guest spots on The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Emeril Live, and Univision's Sabado Gigante. She's also made three films, the most notable being the IMAX documentary Hurricane on the Bayou, a portrait of four New Orleans musicians (Tab Benoit, Allen Toussaint, and Chubby Carrier are the others) before and after Katrina. With her amazing chops, good looks, and surprisingly mature vocal style, Shaw was on the brink of a brilliant career at an age when most girls are only interested in cute guys of another kind.
Amanda Shaw was born in Boston in 1991, but the family moved to New Orleans, where her father grew up while she was still a child. When she was three years old she saw a symphony orchestra on television and fell in love with the violin. She showed an immediate affinity for the instrument and had her concert debut with the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra when she was seven, the youngest soloist to ever play with the orchestra. The Rosie O'Donnell Show contacted her parents shortly thereafter and she made two appearances on the show in 1999 and 2001. Living in New Orleans, Shaw was exposed to a wide variety of music. Her parents took her to see funk, soul, jazz, blues, zydeco, and Cajun music. By the time Shaw was nine she was ready to ditch her classical training and try fiddling. She began sitting in with jazz, blues, and Cajun bands and learned how to play by ear. By the time she was ten, Shaw was fronting her own band, later to be named the Cute Guys, as well as playing various solo and duo gigs.
Her first album, Little Black Dog, consisted of traditional Cajun dance tunes played with fire and verve by the Cute Guys and Shaw. By the time Shaw cut I'm Not a Bubblegum Pop Princess in 2003, she was adding rock and country to her sound. The album was produced by the Cute Guys and featured covers of "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" by the Clash and the Ramones' (slightly rewritten) "I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend." It was the success of Bubblegum that led to her deal with Rounder Records. Producer Scott Billington worked with Shaw and the Cute Guys for almost four years on Pretty Runs Out, her Rounder debut, honing her sound, selecting material, and setting up co-writing sessions with Jim McCormick, Shannon McNally, and Anders Osborne. In early 2007, to capitalize on her popularity at the Jazz and Heritage Festival, Rounder put out a limited-edition five-song EP and DVD, Home Again, which contained three tracks from Pretty Runs Out and two non-album tunes, "Who Do You Think You Are?" and "Perrodin Two Step." Pretty Runs Out hit the streets in early January 2008, a solid 13-track set that shows off Shaw's fiddling chops as well as her winning way with country, pop, and roots rock material. ~ j. poet