We have yet to feature this fantastically talented Nashville based artist on the site, but with the recent release of her stunning new album “Pauline” it’s time to make amends! The “Pauline” in question is Ashley’s maternal grandmother, the album being autobiographical and reflective, drawing inspiration from her close knit family and upbringing in rural Kansas where she grew up listening to artists such as Reba, Willie Nelson, Bob Seger , Johnny Cash and Lucinda Williams… but it was the classic Patty Loveless album “When Fallen Angels Fly” which finally made her determined to pursue a career in country music.
Ashley is the elder of two daughters, was raised by working class parents and left her hometown of Lawrence after high school 17 years ago to relocate to music city , studying Music Business at the prestigious Belmont University and waiting tables to help ends meet. She got a publishing deal just before graduating, honing her songwriting skills working as a staff writer …her writing credits include Little Big Town’s top 40 female empowerment anthem “The Daughters” for which she received a Grammy nomination earlier this year. She has worked with the legendary producer Jay Joyce, opened for Luke Bryan and Eric Church while they were still performing in clubs and is now finally and firmly establishing herself as a solo artist. Ashley had the honour of performing songs from this new album on the Opry stage last October, a far cry from the performances at the local dive bars back home she’d visit with her father and where she regularly performed, her hometown friends coining her name ” Dive Bar Darling” which she still loves to this day …incidentally she wore her late father’s handkerchief around her wrist for that Opry debut.
With a fantastic eye for detail and gift for storytelling, Ashley is not afraid of exposing her vulnerable side and can write about a very personal situation while at the same time making it infinitely relatable to others, something for which the best country music writers over the years are renown of course. While she’s happy to admit that she hasn’t got the type of ” beautiful voice made for singing the National Anthem… it’s a storyteller’s voice” that is exactly what the songs on this most recent and very personal album in particular cry out for, and combined with her incredible lyrics they transport the listener to a time and place where life was much simpler but also much harder in many respects for the generations about whom she reminisces. This is evident from the start on the opening title track, which begins with some nostalgic memories relayed by Ashley’s mother, totally unaware she was being recorded at the time.
The ten tracks on this latest release were all co-written by Ashley and album producer Sean McConnell, himself a talented recording artist who I saw open of both Ashley Monroe and Ashley McBryde (notice a name theme going on??!!) in London when large-scale live concerts were still a “thing” . And incidentally, Caroline Spence (an artist we have featured on the site several times) provides gorgeous backing vocals on one track as well.
Natalie Hemby adds to the writing credits on one of my favourite songs here, the stunning and moving “Just A House” which is addressed to Ashley’s mother, imploring her to move on in the aftermath of her husband’s sudden death in a farm accident at the family home. Just listen to the heartbreak in her voice as she sings about watching her mother struggling to cope, I particularly love the lines about the front door to their house which has seen better days…” it’s hanging on like your heart, but it all wants to do is fall apart “. And wow, such to the beautiful string accompaniment!
Ashley’s late father was obviously a huge part of her life, which is particularly evident on ” St Patrick’s Day” which sees Ashley reminiscing about celebrating the annual event with him and her sister, while the stunning ballad “Waiting” pays homage to the frustration and perseverance it has taken her to breakthrough in the cut throat music business. Using clever word play, its title refers not only to her patience among the rejections she received along the way but also to those waitress jobs mentioned earlier… “I paint my smile in the mirror when the real one’s gone. This just ain’t the kind of show that I thought I’d put on. Wiping tables when I should be singing songs. I cut my teeth on these bar stools that I’m serving now…..Thank God I didn’t know at 22 how damn long a dream takes to come true” .
I could wax lyrical about every single track on this incredible album, but instead implore you to take a listen yourselves …along with her seemingly (and criminally!) overlooked back catalogue which I am only now catching up on myself ; like so many of my favourite artists she is no overnight success story. Sorry Ashley, I admit to being late to the party but I’m just happy that I have finally been made aware of your music and I must let you know that ” Pauline” is among of my top releases of 2020 …I can’t wait to see how your career progresses.
For more information go to ashleyray.com where there’s links to all her socials.
Stream/download “Pauline” here https://ffm.to/ashleyray.ofp
Article written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)