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Ashton Shepherd

Look It Up – 2011 (MCA Nashville)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Ashton Shepherd

Ashton Shepherd showed a lot of promise on her debut, "Sounds So Good" and the single Takin' Off This Pain from 2008, but somehow nothing quite took off from the CD, and her career seemed stalled. This four-song EP revives it and a teaser of what's to come from a full-length slated for later this year.

Shepherd sounds a bit too mannered, overemphasizing words as if she's trying a tad too hard (the kiss-off single Look It Up). She's a fine singer, as she was on her debut, but Shepherd ought to let loose a bit more, which she does somewhat on the chorus. But there's a sense here and elsewhere that less could have been more. One could hear Miranda Lambert singing the same song and sounding far more natural and at ease, while letting it rip.

The same can be said vocally for Where Country Grows, yet another in a string of songs telling you how great all country folks are. Shepherd, who at times recalls Gretchen Wilson, just doesn't sound comfy enough in her own skin. Or maybe for some reason normally ace producer Buddy Cannon (Kenny Chesney) wasn't.

The southern rural lifestyle creeps into the musically upbeat More Cows Than People, which she penned with Bobby Pinson (the two also wrote Where Country Grows.)

Shepherd fortunately stays true to country music roots, tending to go for mandolin, pedal steel and like-minded country instrumentation, instead of a modern sheen (although the guitars take over at one point on Where Country Grows). That's ever apparent on the jaunty, bouncy Beer on a Boat with fiddle leading it off and strong vocals. The song is made for summer and radio.

In lieu of a full length, the EP will have to do, of course. For now. While not perfect, the EP finds Shepherd with the vocal chops and quality songs to make you wish the wait was over already.