Pittsburgh Post Gazette-Where Country Grows Review
Ashton Shepherd 'Where Country Grows' (MCA Nashville)
3 1/2 stars = Very good
Ashton Shepherd's "Look It Up" is the kind of song that epitomizes what country has always claimed to be: direct, honest and free of pretense and posturing. It wasn't a huge hit, yet the snarling, combative tune, written by Angaleena Presley and Robert Ellis Orrall, follows trails blazed by Miranda Lambert ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"), the Dixie Chicks ("Goodbye Earl") and the master of that style, Loretta Lynn ("Fist City").
This is Alabama native Shepherd's second album since her 2008 debut, "Sounds So Good," which went no higher than the country Top 20. Her voice, sharp and unapologetically twangy, even salvages three generic tracks here. One is the title song, celebrating the music as Brad Paisley did with "This Is Country Music." The rural anthem "More Cows Than People" rattles off predictable imagery (fences, tractors, grain elevators). "Beer on a Boat" serves as the obligatory party anthem.
Ms. Shepherd's vocal skills are matched by her gifts as a writer, apparent on the ballad "While It Ain't Raining," written with Troy Jones. The witty "Trying to Go to Church" (penned with Brandi Clark and Shane McAnally) explores the timeless Southern conflict of wild Saturday nights versus pious Sunday mornings. Three flawless originals demonstrate she doesn't even need co-writers: the ballad "I'm Just a Woman," "That All Leads to One Thing," a dark cheating song, and "Rory's Radio," a memoir based on a friend of Ms. Shepherd's late brother.
Convenient as it might be to place her in the same musical neighborhood as Gretchen Wilson, that would miss the point. While both share a directness and a proudly country approach, between her sharp-edged vocals and skilled, nuanced writing, Ms. Shepherd demonstrates potential that merits a far wider audience.
-- Rich Kienzle for the Post-Gazette