Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
There seems to be a thing at the moment for young female Country/Americana artists who are intent on ploughing their own furrow and, if not quite sticking two fingers up to the Nashville Pop-Country mainstream, they are certainly not afraid to operate outside or on the fringes of it.
Released this week is the debut album by the latest such artist,South Carolina native Ashland Craft. Travelin’ Kind is an absolute cracker of an album that is chock-full of a wide range of Country/Americana styles all held together by Ashland Craft’s whiskey-soaked rock-infected rasp and a production that is light years away away from the squeaky-clean, overly-sanitised, programmed and quantized Nashville Pop/Country.
Ashland Craft talks in interviews about a range of influences across Country, Pop and Rock and that comes across in the sound of this album, which combines everything into a glorious and highly cohesive piece of work that could quite easily be one of the best albums of its type this year so far.
From the outset it’s clear that this album is something special. It opens with the title track, a sprawling monster of a song with dirty electric guitars chiming behind squealing harmonica and bluesy lead slide guitars. Aside from the low-down and dirty rock ‘n roll production, the first thing that you notice are the vocals: a powerful, Rock-inflected Country drawl with just the right amount of rasp.
It’s a voice that’s quite unique in female Country and is all the better for it! Lyrically, it has the narrator celebrating the freedom of life on the road and you get the feeling that this is exactly where Ashland Craft is at her happiest.
‘Your Momma Still Does’ is structurally much more like the sort of thing you’d hear from the Nashville mainstream, but the production is anything but. The guitars snarl and bite behind the wonderful vocal hooks.
The lyrics to this one have the narrator talking to an ex-partner who clearly doesn’t care about doing her wrong, and never calls her, even though his ‘momma still does.’ It’s nicely written and its familiar melodies and irresistible mid-paced groove make it an instant favourite. It also sets the tone for the lyrical themes on the album: you won’t find sweet little love songs on here. Oh no – this young lady is clearly a free-spirited girl who would rather sing about the realities of heartbreak, loss and the joy of the open road.
‘Leavin’ You Again’ is very different in that it’s a much more traditional Country song in its structures and melodies. Low-slung Telecaster guitars and fiddle dance around the acoustic guitars in this superb song. It has a beautifully warm and analogue production with a real rootsy feel. You can imagine this being sung on a porch at sunset or in a smoky bar songwriter round.
Next up is the utterly fabulous ‘Make It Past Georgia,’ which was apparently co-written with a Uber driver that Ashland met in Nashville! This is another delightfully mid-paced groover with irresistible vocal hooks. Just try listening to this without singing along to that awesome chorus and marvel at the way Ashland’s vocals move from soft and sweet in the verses to full-on rasp in the chorus. Once again, the production favours those gritty guitars and singing fiddle behind the driving acoustics. Utterly brilliant and one of this reviewer’s favourite tracks on the album!
‘Last 20 Dollars’ is a delightful slice of good-time honky-tonk. This one will kill with a full band in a dive bar, with the classic twanging Telecaster and fiddle solos reminding us all of the sort of Country that filled the airwaves back in the 1990s.
‘Highway Like Me’ is the first proper ballad on the album. Co-written with the utterly fabulous Jessi Alexander and Isbell Reid, it’s a slow-burner traditional Country ballad full of old-school melodies, aching steel and twanging Telecasters. It also features guitarist Marcus King who supplies some wonderful lead guitar that sounds not a million miles away from the sort of thing that Riche Sambora played on Bon Jovi’s more Country sounding moments and it lifts an already great song into the stratosphere.
‘Mimosas In The Morning’ is back to the mid-paced groove Americana/Roots/Country sound and is another brilliant track with stunning hooklines and a delicious guitar solo and is a fabulous drinking song.
‘Day By Day’ takes us back to a more traditional Country sound and is about numbing the pain of a bad break-up with whatever you can get a hold of! “Anything to keep you off my mind, it might sound bad and bitter, but it feels good being with a guy whose last name I don’t remember,” she purrs over another irresistible mid-paced groove.
The pace and intensity drops for the beautiful ‘Letcha Fly’ which is another leaving song, with the narrator deciding to let someone go because she recognises in him a kindred spirit who needs to move on and spread his wings. It’s a beautifully written and produced song with a delightfully rootsy feel.
‘Come Down’ continues the theme of mid-paced groove that is prevalent across the album. It is another superb slice of Americana/Country with rock-inflected guitars adding power and presence to the production.
The album closes with the awesome ‘That’s The Kinda Place’ which is a powerful Country/Rocker which swaggers out of the speakers on chugging guitars before the chorus takes us away. The hookline on this is quite ridiculously infectious and as such it’s a belter of a way to close an album as you’re left wanting more. There’s a definite Ashely McBryde influence on this one too which can’t be a bad thing!
This album is a killer piece of work. Fans of Ashley McBryde and Morgan Wade should snap this up on sight. Anyone who enjoys the rockier side of the Nashville mainstream, such as Kip Moore, etc, will also find a huge amount to enjoy here. You also get the feeling that Ashland Craft is one helluva live performer, as all of these tracks have a quite ‘live’ feel about them. Overall, an absolute cracker of an album – if she’s this good on album number one, what will she be giving us by the time she’s on her third? I’ll certainly be along for the ride!
Get updates from Ashland Craft here: https://www.ashlandcraft.com
Join the ASHHOLE fan club here: http://smarturl.it/ASHHOLES