Ashley Jordan – He’s Crazy
Ashley Jordan is well-known and highly regarded around New England. Since I started this blog, I had been looking for an opportunity to catch a live performance of hers, and her gig schedule finally coincided with my availability in August. You can read that review, so I won’t rehash it, but there’s a reason she’s regionally well-known, even in the city of Boston and not just in the outer suburbs where country music has a decent following. I’m pleased to get the chance to review her newest album.
Album Review of Ashley Jordan: He’s Crazy
A singer can only get so far simply by having a broad vocal range and hitting all the notes. There has to be a warmth, a richness, a fullness in the voice to convey understanding and truth, to blend well with the other instruments and to establish an emotional investment and understanding that causes you, the listener, to hang on every word, a tone and tenor that allow you to feel the singer’s emotion straight from her heart as if she’s singing only to you whether it’s in a crowded venue or the privacy of your headset. Ashley Jordan has that. That’s why she’s a local favorite, one of our area gems. And, combined with the strong work ethic and desire I’ve heard mentioned when people speak of her, that’s why she’ll go as far as she gets the opportunity to.
Ashley is from the small town of Harvard, Massachusetts. For those outside the Boston area, that’s 30 miles and a world away from its name-sharing university and Boston/Cambridge. Harvard, Mass. is small-town USA. I think I drove through it once, but I blinked and missed it. Still, given its proximity to Boston, Ashley was able to hone her skills busking in the big city beginning as a young teen. So it’s not surprising she exudes ample small-town charm backed by big-city confidence when she performs. It’s a deadly combination, one tailor-made for Nashville in particular and country music in general. Indeed, I get a bit of a Carrie Underwood-ish vibe from Ashley Jordan.
He’s Crazy is Ashley’s fourth album. And this time, it’s personal. Or at least it sure seems that way. The album centers upon the theme of an ended relationship, at different times sad, angry, introspective, dismissive, and defiant about it. Much the way Taylor Swift’s relationships are fertile songwriting fodder, this could be Taylor’s next album. But, to be honest, I’d much rather hear Ashley sing it. She clearly knows how to write songs that suit her voice and adds those personal touches, those vocal flourishes, that make a great vocalist unique and recognizable. The songwriting is impeccable, as well; Ashley deals from a vocabulary that’s broad but familiar, and the lyrics chosen are almost always very precise and ideal for the situation.
I’m guessing this album will have staying power, too, because each time I think I’ve selected a favorite song, I’m struck by a different mood and a different perfect track to represent it. So if you’ll indulge me, let me take you song-by-song through this impactful collection.
The disc opens with “Weapon.” Great way to start off. This one’s big-time. After a couple listens, I was checking the liner notes to make sure this was really an original, as it quickly became an old favorite. A powerful country tune, it’s mostly mellow but bursts forth with power and the sort of roar you’re more likely to hear from a rock band like Imagine Dragons. Just a hint of that rock edge, as it’s clearly a country tune, but this is the sort of song that could explode across genres. Between the violin opening and explosions of sound during the song all supporting her powerful vocals, this could be a signature song for a hot young artist.
“Come Home” is a wistful country crooner, as Ashley’s voice soars through the chorus, and though the song is not rock, it somehow recalls rock phrasings of the word “home” ranging from Phillip Phillips’ “Home” to Scorpions’ “Coming Home,” even if the comparison ends at that word. Indeed, there are ample small-town country girl moments like the way she sings “mem’ry” that show a country sensibility and a hint of even country-folk influence. There’s also that dramatic pause late in the chorus that recalls the hooks from the big ’90s alt-rock hits. (Think Barenaked Ladies.) Though seemingly simple to categorize (“country”), Ashley’s songs are so much more complicated than they first seem once you lift the veil; this is a prime example of that.
I wrote in my live review that I hear a bit of Dolly Parton and Clare Bowen in Ashley’s voice. “Blue Eyed Boy” is the song that most brings both of these comparisons to mind, of Clare during the gentle moments but more of Dolly when she ever-so-slightly adds a little more power. And what seems like a bit of a twang at times comes across as defiant determination across a guitar-pickin’ music backdrop in this well-written song with its encouraging, resolute spin on a particular heartbreak.
The laid-back strumming of “Losin’ My Damn Mind” seems like something you’d hear around a campfire, walking the line between folky country and ’70s storytelling country, yet with a modern pop-inspired wail. And some of the phrases carry a bit of a James Taylor vibe. It’s a nice little damn song.
“In Spite of You” is the truly defiant song in this collection, downright rebellious in comparison to the merely-cranky-by-comparison “Blue Eyed Boy.” (Of course, y’all already know I enjoy a bit of snark and attitude with my country.) With a bit of radio play, I’m sure this would quickly become a favorite post-breakup anthem on campuses nationwide, with some great, cathartic scream-along moments.
I suppose “Short Fuse” could be a word to the wise about staying on Ashley’s good side. Seriously, though, this is one of many sing-along worthy tunes, with sensitive guitar building to strength and a vocal edge at the song’s climax that conveys the fraying of her last nerve. Yes, she’s a convincing vocalist who’ll convince you every thought and lyric in her songs is the gospel truth, leaving you to wonder how much, if any, is fiction.
“Lone Wolf,” though, is the song that I always scream along with. Ashley, of course, is singing with smooth power on the disc while I’m merely screaming in the car. Though propelled by a tribal rhythm, this track is still slow-paced, but it is the one song on this disc that fully and frequently unleashes the tuneful firepower her voice is capable of.
“So Far Gone” mixes strength and sensitivity, power and compassion into a combination of music and lyrics that serve as a strong reminder of this vocalist’s songwriting skills. It’s all in the details, and, of course, she writes to her vocal strengths.
On “He’s Crazy,” a dancing and screaming guitar line weaves its way behind Ashley’s emotive vocals. This is the one song on which she utilizes a high register that I want to call a falsetto, but it really isn’t. It is quite cool, though. Yet another tool in her toolkit. And by song’s end, she leaves the listener convinced he’s crazy… though after “Short Fuse,” maybe he has a point.
“Angels” closes the album on a sensitive note, softly, though if you listen to the lyrics, perhaps a bit dysfunctionally.
Beginning to end, this album is a moderately-paced country tour de force; for those who don’t yet know her, it’s a terrific introduction to a young woman who has every skill – as a songwriter, in the studio, live, and seemingly off-stage as well – to be a country music star. So get this album, enjoy Ashley’s music, and root for her to gain broader notice. I can only imagine how she’d rock a packed Gillette.
If you get a chance, get ahold of a copy of this disc. I’d guess “Weapon,” “He’s Crazy,” and “Angels” will have the biggest chance of breakout success, but if you’re like me, another song or two on this album, which is solid beginning to end, may be your favorites.
Ashley has a busy weekend ahead. On Saturday, September 24th, she has the 11:30 AM time slot on the main stage at the Cape Cod Scallop Fest in Falmouth, MA. And the next day, on Sunday, September 25th, she opens for Trace Adkins at 1:00 PM at Indian Ranch in Webster, MA. The concert page on her website also lists a Friday, September 30 gig at Indian Ranch, performing as part of the Nash Next Radio competition. Obviously, check back to her website for additional upcoming shows.