Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ashton Shepherd – Where Country Grows (CD Review)

Ashton Shepherd – Where Country Grows (CD Review)


1. Look It Up 2. I’m Good 3. Where Country Grows 4. I’m Just A Woman 5. More Cows Than People
6. Beer On A Boat 7. While It Ain’t Rainin’ 8. Tryin’ To Go To Church 9. That All Leads To One Thing
10. Rory’s Radio

Label - MCA Nashville
UPC - 602527642536
Release - 11 July 2011
Lyrics – Included
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Three years have drifted by since the debut album SOUNDS SO GOOD was released by this native from the tiny hamlet of Leroy, Alabama. It won the plaudits of the music press but it had limited commercial success during its 54 week duration on the Billboard Country charts, peaking at #16. This modern-day Loretta Lynn grew up listening to traditional country music and her unique old school sound was born out of her Pickin’ Shed in the backyard. The 24-year old Ashton Shepherd is not a structured 10 – 3 writer, songs come to her when she senses true home-grown feelings that reflects pragmatic real-life situations as opposed to what might appear in a glossy show-biz magazine.

On this sophomore release she touches base once again with producer Buddy Cannon who calls upon the services of many notable players. Shepherd has 3 solo song credits but to stretch herself musically and give this album more of a commercial edge she shares her pen on 5 songs with some top tunesmiths.

The first single and lead off put-down number ‘Look It Up’ gained a #19 slot on the country chart accompanied by a humorous video. This swampy kiss-off song was written by Robert Ellis Orrall (‘A Place In This World’ - Taylor Swift) and eastern Kentuckian Angaleena Presley, a coal miner’s daughter, who as “Holler Annie” is a member of Miranda Lamberts new all-girl trio Pistol Annies. Shepherd not only slams the door on her womanizing husband but has fun dissecting her partner, rubbing his nose in the southern-dirt and insults his intelligence: “The word is faithful” she sings in its opening line and in the second verse “Let's try “liar”, just look it up”. With a large dose of southern backwoods drawl she delivers the final body blow: I said go, goodbye, get lost, get out, get gone the word is “over” look it up.

Shepherd procures the assistance of Nashville Songwriter Hall of Famer Dean Dillon and Dale Dodson on the mid-tempo ‘I’m Good’, which has a contemporary feel. After dodging the curve balls coming down the telephone line a resolute woman reminds her apologetic ex of the heartache she’s been through – “I've cried a river, but you don't remember”. His hollow words will not heal her wounds and suggests to him he makes this the final call, and like this strong willed lady has done, moves on: You tore me down piece by piece but believe me there's plenty of me left, Boy I'm good, gettin' better at being my best

Bobby Pinson the co-writer on a string of number one’s with Sugarland provides the paint for Shepherds canvas on the upbeat second single and title cut ‘Where Country Grows’. Heading down the sparsely populated dirt roads with the smell of honeysuckle in the country airwaves it’s full of southern imagery. It describes the things that a country lifestyle is born out of: Ooh, it's in the earth and the church and the words that we speak slow ,That's where country grows.

The two writers again combine on the steel and fiddle-laden ‘More Cow’s Than People’. Like its character Bobby in the first verse who returns from the city lights Ashton loves and treasures the small town life and is the reason she hasn’t felt the urge to up-sticks and head for Music city. Away from busy music schedules she’s a hard working mum and pea farmer selling the produce out of the back of a truck. As she cranks up the twang like a tractor “It ain’t much of nothin’ she declares. But she’s happy with the peace it holds the unpolluted light and those endless ‘Bama skies: There ain’t no doubt why I live out, Where there’s more cows than people.

The solo cut ‘I’m Just A Woman’ is a slow-paced ballad has all the hallmarks of an early Patty Loveless work whom Shepherd cites as an influence. The opening and closing melody is remarkably close to Brad Paisley’s ‘Too Country’. Ashton spills the beans on a woman’s persona. She knows her man tries his best but she needs him to appreciate her feelings. Sometimes she’s proud and happy other times she cries when she’s sad. She doesn’t want to be ignored like the bills on the table with a wish that he will shoulder some of life’s burdens that weigh heavily on her.

Beer On A Boat’ written by Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip (who together wrote Blake Shelton’s chart topper ‘Honey Bee’) along with Marv Green (co-wrote ‘Amazed‘ for Lonestar, ‘All The Women I Am’ and ‘Consider Me Gone’ for Reba McEntire) would make for a great fun-packed summertime time. As the weekend sun beats down and “the world looks better in a cool pair of shades” Shepherd invites halve the town to jump aboard and crack open a beer or two!

Ashton gets reflective on While It Ain’t Rainin’ written with Troy Jones (co-wrote ‘People Are Crazy’ for Billy Currington & ‘Shiftwork’ for Kenny Chesney). Life’s challenges can shift similarly to weather patterns -“Rainbows today are gone tomorrow”. Quarrels are likened to “downpours” and those “blue skies” can’t be traded and living is valued.

The snappy country two-stepper ‘Tryin’ To Go To Church’ (co-written with Brandy Clark & Shane McAnally - ‘Cry’ and ‘The Day She Got Divorced’ for Reba McEntire) speaks of a beer fuelled gambling addiction which she fights as much as the “heifer” who prises her hubby way. When the chips are down the devil proves the winner and the good lord is put on hold when, or if, things will ever change for better!

The melody on the tense ‘That All Leads To One Thing’ seems strangely familiar. Shepherds syllables are as stretched as the feelings of angst in a marriage gone cold. A wife can no longer take all the alibis and excuses and her bags as packed: I’ve been to the bank this morning and a lawyer has been seen. As the track dies away with the strain of a fiddle and an eerie screech on a guitar her wedding ring is left on the kitchen table and the open door creaks – She’s gone!

The outstanding ‘Rory’s Radio’ which anchors this collection is a nostalgic and personal song. Shepherd lost her older brother Jeff in a car accident in 1999 when he was just 23 years old. "He lived a big life, and he made an impact on my life," Shepherd shares. She pays homage to him in this ballad. She keeps his memory alive relating to days she spent with him and his best friend Rory Dunigan. As a mischievous teenager Shepherd speaks of feeling all grown-up, buying wine for her “big brothers” and heading down the road in Rory’s pick up listening to Hank Williams songs. She fondly recalls the drag racing, night-fishing and eating crawfish sitting under Tombigbee Bridge – “So innocent of this big old world that I now know”... “Were all married now and we have kids But don’t think that we don’t look back and remember” she sings.

Ashton and husband Roland Cunningham are expecting a baby girl this Autumn who will join big brother James aged 5.
As regards this second baby if you’re a country-holic and enjoy it with generous helpings of twang then I suggest you - Look it up


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