My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Ashton Shepherd – ‘Where Country Grows’

Ashton Shepherd was the youngest of the artists we spotlighted last year as the “new New Traditionalists”. At last, three years after she emerged on the scene, she has released her second album, which marks a serious bid for mainstream success by a talented young singer-songwriter. It is produced, like her first record, by Buddy Cannon, who does a fine job balancing contemporary and traditional elements of Ashton’s sound and emphasizing her unique voice.

The insistent lead single ‘Look It Up’ (written by Angaleena Presley and Robert Ellis Orrall), which I reviewed at the end of last year, has Ashton coming on scornfully like a modern Loretta Lynn. This works tremendously well, and it is a shame it was not a monster hit for Ashton rather than peaking just inside the top 20 – although that made it her biggest hit to date.

It is one of only two tracks not written by Ashton. She is developing well as a songwriter, and I am pleased to see her working with other writers to hone her own gifts, building on the untutored natural talent she showed on her debut three years ago.  Former artist and recent Sugarland collaborator Bobby Pinson helps writing a couple of country-living themed numbers. The title track and current single is a bit predictable as Ashton pays tribute to her rural roots, but the up-tempo ‘More Cows Than People’ on the same theme is quite entertaining, with colorful details rooting the song in a specific reality. This one isn’t a generic southern small town. I also like the relaxed but catchy ‘Beer On A Boat’. Written by Marv Green, Ben Hayslip and Rhett Akins, some of the lyrics might sound leering sung by a man, but Ashton makes it wholesome and charming. These four originally appeared on an EP earlier this year, which Razor X reviewed in anticipation of the album.

The best of the new songs is the sultry ‘That All Leads To One Thing’, one of Ashton’s solo compositions. It has a southern gothic Bobbie Gentry feel. A tormented married woman addresses the husband who is obviously cheating. With a vibe too dark for today’s country radio, it is one of the highlights on the record.  The upbeat ‘Tryin’ To Go To Church’ (written with Shane MacAnally and Brandy Clark) is lively and entertaining tune about struggling to live right in the face of various temptations (like the “husband-stealing heifer” she has to “set right”), and is reminiscent of ’70s Linda Ronstadt.

‘I’m Just A Woman’ is a ballad about being a woman, and specifically a wife and mother; the lyrics are not particularly deep or insightful, but the extraordinarily intense vocal makes it sound better than it is. The ballad ‘While It Ain’t Raining’ is equally intense to the point of verging on the over-dramatic, and although the song itself is well written (by Ashton with Troy Jones) a slightly more understated approach might have been more effective. Both tracks have backing vocals from Melonie Cannon (Buddy’s daughter and an exceptional talent in her own right).

‘I’m Good’ is a fine song which Ashton wrote with Dale Dodson and Dean Dillon. Like ‘Look It Up’, it is presented from the point of view of a woman refusing to forgive the man who has hurt her, but with a mellower feel musically as she concentrates on affirming her own strength and moving on. Her enunciation is oddly over emphasized – a feature of her vocals some criticized on her first album, which seems to have been intensified on this track in particular. ‘Rory’s Radio’ fondly recalls teenage memories of listening to the radio while driving with her older brothers, and has some slightly awkward phrasing.

I thought Ashton’s debut was enormously promising, the voice of a fresh new talent while still unmistakably country. This is more commercial, and will hopefully gain her some radio play, but although this is an encouraging step forwards, I feel she is still a work in progress, with her best yet to come.

Grade: B+

Buy it at amazon.

3 responses to “Album Review: Ashton Shepherd – ‘Where Country Grows’

  1. Ben Foster August 24, 2011 at 8:49 am

    Definitely a work in progress. She has a very good voice, and I enjoy hearing a female artist with a traditionalist bent as opposed a crossover pop style. I’ve heard the EP, but not the full album, and of those four songs the only one I really cared for was “Beer On a Boat.”

  2. Jonathan Pappalardo August 24, 2011 at 9:14 am

    I agree with Ben’s work in progress assessment. This album could be a lot better but there are some real gems. “I’m Good” is one of the best songs of the year. I love its vibe, lyrics, and Ashton’s vocal. It reminds me of something that would’ve been a huge hit in the late 80s/early 90s.

    My other favorite, “I’m Just A Woman” is to true. Women have to be everything to everyone and often get little to no credit for their efforts. I do take issue, though, with the word “just” in the title. To suggest someone is just a woman is to say that being a woman is trivial and doesn’t really matter. Like if you’re just a woman, there’s nothing else you can be or do, like have a career. It’s as offensive as calling your pet “just a dog.” They are much more than that.

    “Rory’s Radio” would be a lot better if the “Rory” was defined. I might have missed it in the lyrics, but without knowing who “Rory” is, I’m left with the feeling of this means something to Ashton and those who know her but has little meaning in the outside world.

    Overall, I like a few of the tracks and think the first four songs are the strongest back-to-back on the album. There’s just too much filler on here to excite me. But while it isn’t going to win an Album of the Year award anytime soon, it does have some excellent songs that need to be heard. I’m hoping “I’m Good” is released as the third single. I could see that being a huge hit for her if radio gave it a chance.

  3. alex_supertramp August 25, 2011 at 8:11 am

    interesting review… I’ll have to give this one some more time… I really enjoyed her first release and was anticipating this one, but it really seemed like blah pop country smaltz through and through… I listened several times in a row and got more bored each time. After your review and the comments I’ll revisit, but at first glance i was really dissapointed by this…

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