By rights, the public should have stopped being shocked by child prodigies a long time ago. When Taylor Swift broke big as a teen in the mid-2000s, she was following in a tradition that goes from Britney to The Chiffons to a five-year-old Mozart. But heads still shake in disbelief when old-soul music comes from a young person's fingers. Mason Ashley, at 16, is probably used to it.
This five-song EP serves as a fine opening statement from a Texas girl with big dreams. Maybe the world doesn't need just another confessional folk songwriter with a guitar - so Ashley wisely adds a terrific dash of Celtic sweetness to her singing and (actual) melodies. "For A Moment" beckons the object of her affection with the lure of a motive, jangling arrangement. There's a potential misstep in following the opener with two tunes in a row about running into an ex. But they're very different, with Mason yearning for another chance with one boy ("Untied Ends") and thanking God she's done with another. The latter - "Death of Me" - is one of the biggest highlights here. Ashley remarkably keeps the melody bright even when the subject matter gets heavy. And that ability to consider multiple emotions within the episode of a song (she wishes a boy the best while she wishes he'd disappear) is a hallmark of someone much more seasoned.
Ashley has clearly benefited from some professional songwriting education and also learned a few tricks at the school of romantic hard knocks. She still uses a lot of primary colors with her lyrics - things like wind and rain. But she generally does it with real effect. She'll adopt greater nuance for certain and hopefully, a better recording - her soft voice needs to be kept high in the mix or an occasional line will drop out. Do not miss the closing title track, "Into the Song." Backed by a haunting string arrangement and filled with open spaces, it's like a gorgeous kind of daydream. It may be a simple invitation for a boy to dance, but it could also read as a love letter from artist to listener - please, stay for a while, and maybe we can write this beautiful song together.