Back in 2008, Ashton Shepherd seemed to be an answer to the prayers of all country music purists. She burst onto the scene with her heavy Southern drawl, rich and expressive vocals, and an ultra-twangy musical style that was countrier than an Alabama dirt clod. Her first two singles ("Takin' Off This Pain" and "Sounds So Good") charted and #20 and #21 respectively - not exactly runaway successes, but still a substantial accomplishment for a female artist of the neotraditionalist brand. Unfortunately, her debut album Sounds So Good failed to make a major commercial impact, and she quickly faded from the public's memory.
But now she's back with a new single, and a sophomore album to be released sometime in 2011. For now, Ashton is tiding us over with the kiss-off debut single "Look It Up." It sounds clever enough on the first listen, as Ashton smartly belittles her no-good cheating husband. "The word is faithful," she chides. "Look it up. It means through thick and thin, and pitchin' in..." She also has a few choice words for her man's mistress, who she dubs a "piece of trash" that defines the word easy.
The problem is that such lyrics, while fairly interesting on the first listen, lose their shine once the novelty wears off. After a few more listens, the concept no longer holds up, and the descriptions sound tedious instead of clever.
Sometimes the vocal and production may provide just enough extra kick to overcome such a hurdle, but in this case they don't. The production sounds too lazy on half of the track, and too busy on the other half. Neither the melody nor Ashton's delivery has enough character to bring the song to life. Her performance sounds dull and nondistinct in comparison to her earlier work. While she is still by no means a vocal hack, she could easily be mistaken for Gretchen Wilson.
This single is definitely not a total trainwreck, but the sum of its parts falls short of what it could have been, and we've already seen Ashton do better. Still, it's good to have her back, even if she's not quite back in full form. Here's hoping that the rest of her new album will blow us away, even if the first single didn't.
ASHTON'S SCORE: 5
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
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