For many albums, the second half includes most of the mediocre songs. For Ashton Shepherd, there are quite a few hidden gems.
Let's start with "Old Memory" and "Regular Joe", they may as well be written about the same character, but just at different stages of the relationship. In "Old Memory", the narrator still isn't over the memory of her ex. She's still lamenting it as she watches him on the dance floor with somebody new. Her delivery is subtle with a beautiful twang. You could listen to this one song for hours on end.
"Regular Joe" has the narrator talking to her ex's new love interest. She wants the new woman to know how special the ex is. She wants to tell her how "he's the best thing you'll ever find, he ain't your regular Joe. And I'm the crazy fool who let him go. If he says he loves you, that's what he means."
I think this is a very classy move on the part of the narrator, but the new woman doesn't handle it that way. She gets quite offended, and you sense some tension building up.
But at the end of the song, the narrator realizes how special Joe is. So it's like she learned something from the ex's speech. Now, this is country music folks.
Sandwiched between these two hurtin' songs is a joyous tune called "The Pickin' Shed", and it represents all that's right about country music. People out in the country just making music and jamming on a back porch down south.
Shepherd must have lived some of these songs or she's just a really good writer.
"How Big Are Angel Wings?" is a little bit of a departure from the rest of the album, about a sick child dreaming of heaven. Because of the heavy subject matter, a child confronting the reality of having going to heaven, it's sadder than all the other songs. In fact, I haven't heard a song of this sad since Tammy Cochran's "Angels In Waiting."
It seems like I've heard "The Bigger The Heart" somewhere else. It's just a pick-me-up fast paced country song. It might be the most forgettable song on the album. It's not a knock on the song, just a compliment to the rest of the album.
I don't know if there's been a better title for a drinking/hurting song than "Whiskey Won The Battle." Obviously, the narrator is trying to drown a memory with whiskey. It works temporarily, but "the memory won the war." I don't have all the answers, but I don't believe that drinking would solve a heartache. But, people always seem to attempt it, and it's a very real theme in country music. As long as music is real, then it's cool. Rappers sometimes talk about unpleasant things, but they're real things, so I have to respect that. Same with country.
Bottom line, the Grand Ole Opry needs to FedEx a membership invitation to Ms. Shepherd. She has the sound that traditionalists will love, and the beauty/sex appeal that will create interest among the younger listeners.
If newly-invited Opry member Carrie Underwood is this generation's Dolly Parton - country music's ambassador to the entertainment world, then Shepherd is its Loretta Lynn or Connie Smith, the master of true country sound.
Country music needs both Underwood and Shepherd to carry it into the future, and that's what I expect them to do.