Montana native and Livingston songwriter/guitarist Ashly J. Holland and her band have put out another winner in this nine-song effort of refreshing country music.
Sparse and well produced, it features Tom Murphy, mandolin and background vocals, and Tony Polecastro, banjo, Dobro, and vocal (“You and I Fit” ). Pistol Whip Jamey Warren plays bass when the band is live.
As usual, Holland wrote all the songs; they are so accessible that any number of country artists could record them tomorrow. And her voice has that pure and vibrant quality that the music demands.
“Small Town Girl” strolls softly in, a country loper. Murphy provides stellar background vocals on this and others, nuances of Emmylou Harris/Herb Pedersen vocal harmonies back in the day. Soft banjo cushions “Simone, Simone,” with another great harmony from Murphy. (“Please don’t frighten me. I’m not the one who killed you love. I cannot set you free” ).
“Hey, hey, Hey” is a quick bluegrasser that rocks along with crisp mandolin and the fleet-fingered bent notes of the Dobro. Holland intones, “I pray, pray, pray, God lets me keep you just one more day,” into the catchy refrain, “I would shout it from the highest peak, I would whisper it to you my sweet, my sweet, my sweet, my sweet.”
Holland’s hooks are simple, universal; they don’t seem to draw lots of attention – but they work perfectly. That’s part of what makes a good songwriter. The repetitive refrain is spot-on to keep this one clicking, with smokin’ leads traded by mando and Dobro. Sweet, definitely!
Enter the gossamer strains of Dobro in an aching love song, “So Slowly.” It’s Patsy Cline all over the place, dripping with creamy mandolin tremolo and some Dolly trills thrown in from Holland’s excellent pipes.
The next one, “Hey Mr. Right,” is a finger-snappin’ shuffle. (“Hey, Mr. Right, won’t you show up tonight, I been hangin’ too long with Mr. Wrong …” ).
The moody “In My Mind” finds our heroine boarding a train to the strains of mandolin and Dobro interplay. “Alan’s Song” is a waltz; the sweet banjo belies the lyrics (“Rage will make you … hard, all bitter and scarred …” ). Holland has an edge in her voice that’s quite expressive at these times. She throws in a yodelay-ee-oo as well.
The last number is an unabashed love song, a vocal duet with Polecastro. Holland admits some of the songs here are written “with the tones of love and happiness (not something I usually write about).” Good for her!
– Mariss McTucker