MCA Nashville singer/songwriter Ashton Shepherd will release her second album, Where Country Grows, on July 12. “Look It Up,” the album’s debut single and the first song she recorded for this project, has become the fastest-rising hit of her career and currently sits at No. 21 on the Billboard country singles chart.
Where Country Grows is the much-anticipated follow-up to her 2008 debut, Sounds So Good, and captures her impressive songwriting and singing evolution she’s made over the last few years. She wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 10 songs on the new album, which was produced by Buddy Cannon.
“I felt like I had a basic plan for this record,” she says. “You’ve got your first record behind you; you’ve learned some things. Your sophomore record – I heard from all these people – is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be another factor and define you a little more. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’”
One new approach was to spend time with several of Nashville’s prominent songwriters, including Dean Dillon, Dale Dodson, Bobby Pinson and Troy Jones, to see if these collaborations could inspire new sounds or themes. The strategy worked.
“I was just a little scared of it, since I’d never co-written before,” says Ashton. “Once I started, I really, really enjoyed it. I felt like we had plenty of songs to choose from. So the angle on this record was trying to define Ashton Shepherd in a different way, maybe dig just a little bit deeper and try and put some different kinds of songs on it.” “I was listening back to the record, thinking, ‘This has something for everybody on it.’ I think we’ve accomplished that,” says Ashton, who wrote by herself two of the album’s most powerful songs – “I’m Just a Woman” and “Rory’s Radio.”
The songs from Where Country Grows have already taken her live shows in an exciting new direction. “This record is more tempo-heavy. The first record was very country with all the ballads,” she says. “It made it kind of hard to do live shows, because you had 11 songs and six of them were ballads. Now, we’ve got a good little handful of spunky songs that I think people will really like to sing along with and enjoy on this record.”
While the serious nature of her debut album may have presented challenges with creating set lists, 2008’s appropriately titled Sounds So Good earned tremendous reviews from music critics.
The Wall Street Journal’s year-end list said “the most promising debut of 2008 came from this young woman from Alabama” and calls Shepherd “a potential Loretta Lynn for a new generation.” Entertainment Weekly included “Sounds So Good” on its all-genre list of 10 Best Singles of 2008. In addition, Shepherd earned the No. 1 spot on the Nashville Scene’s Country Music Critic’s Poll in the New Acts category, which was voted on by top music journalists from all over the country.
Shepherd appears poised to garner similar accolades for Where Country Grows. The Washington Post named Ashton one of five new artists to watch in 2011, noting, “… Shepherd has a voice that is instantly recognizable – a sharp twang that she brandishes like a weapon. On her new single ‘Look It Up,’ she uses it to send an unfaithful man crawling to the dictionary: ‘You said you’re sober? Look it up. It’s right next to ‘hell is freezing over,’ ‘flying pigs’ and all that stuff.’”
Music Row’s Robert Oermann says of “Look It Up”: “Ashton struts with plenty of moxie on this attitude number. ‘The word is ‘faithful.’ Look it up,’ she snaps. Plenty of other bon mots ensue, until you get to, ‘The word is ‘over.’ Look it up.’ The rumbling “outlaw” thump in the rhythm section matches her vocal flair lick for lick.”
While Ashton is grateful for the accolades and attention, she remains focused on connecting with fans one song at a time. “What inspired me to be a country artist was growing up listening to country music and seeing the impact that it has on people, seeing how it can change people’s lives,” says the resident of Leroy, Ala. “It can put a smile on somebody’s face when they turn on the radio.” “Or if it’s a sad song, it can make people feel better. Sometimes you need to hear one of those to help you climb through something that you’re going through: ‘Hey, somebody else feels sad too.’ So that’s my main thing about being in country music, trying to help people and be a part of people’s lives.”
Be sure to keep up to date with Ashton Shepherd by visiting her official website, www.AshtonShepherd.com.