Ashton Shepherd

Sounds So Good

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It's quite likely that Ashton Shepherd would never have a major-label shot if it wasn't for Miranda Lambert making tough, feisty women fashionable. Sure, Gretchen Wilson might have had a hand in that, but Lambert eschewed the cartoonish Muzik Mafia image, brought it down to earth, gave it some danger. On her debut Sounds So Good, Shepherd shares a lot of Miranda's toughness -- often she sounds like she can't get through a tune without a bottle in her hand -- and she crosses it with a healthy dose of country-folk learned from the Dixie Chicks, with her high, keening voice sharing a passing resemblance to Natalie Maines. Ashton is more of a redneck woman than the Chicks, celebrating pickin' sheds and cold beer, but she's undeniably a songwriter at heart, crafting vignettes of small-town life and intimate, knowing character portraits, including tunes that play like confessionals. Sounds So Good is a bit heavy on crawling midtempo numbers, all good on their own merits but it gives the album just a slight meditative quality, which makes the faster numbers, like the galloping, gleeful "The Bigger the Heart" stand out all the more. As good as these lighter numbers are, Shepherd's gifts are her intimacy as a writer and how her powerful voice lends depth to her songs. Both qualities shine brightly on this compelling debut.

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