|Susan Ashton [Thief] | Posted March 13, 2013
Susan Ashton’s musical story started when she was a 19 year old with the voice of an angel and absolutely no performance experience. But direction from God and an invitation to sing background vocals for Wayne Watson changed the trajectory of her life. That appearance led to a recording contract and a move from her hometown of Houston to Nashville to begin what soon became chart-topping success with her hit songs “In My Father’s Hands,” “No One Knows My Heart,” “Down On My Knees,” “You Move Me” and “Stand.” The rise up the charts through the 1990s was a double-edge sword. Although she had a platform for sharing her faith, the time on the road also sapped her soul. Her relationship with Christ became…dry. The decade ended with a broken marriage, financial disaster, abandonment by friends and a deep hurt that’s taken years to heal. Losing her recording contract with Capitol Records shortly after the new millennium began dropped her to the emotional bottom.
What she thought would be a year of restoration turned out to be a seven-year reclamation project. She’s far from finished. In fact, one could argue that Susan’s new project Thief is just a beginning. God faithfully brought Susan through every circumstance and restored her love for Him for the purpose of delivering an authentic message that cuts through banal superficiality, and all the way to the soul. Susan beautifully and prophetically proclaimed “Out of myself and into the fire, You move me, burning with love and hope and desire, how You move me, I’m taking delight in every little thing” in her gorgeous song “You Move Me.” Other than a brief appearance in 2005 on Lost In Wonder with Christine Dente’ and Michelle Tumes where Ashton sang incredible versions of the great modern worship songs “I Believe In You,” “Beautiful Savior” and“In Christ Alone,” Christian music fans have been robbed of Susan’s gifted vocals.
The opening track “Moonshine,” is a gorgeous banjo and violin laced ballad with Susan’s passionate vocals setting the tone for this five star effort with the confessional lyrics, “Here I go again, a moth to a flame, it’s charming, enchanting, a mystical sight, there on the surface it all feels alright…there’s a dark side to the moon…shine.” The upbeat track “Love Is Alive” has already become one of my favorite country-tinged musical anthems with the prayerful and uplifting words: “My heart is on fire, my soul’s like a wheel that’s turning, my love is alive, my love is alive!” “Thief” is a poignant song about choices and temptations where she sings yearningly for “Innocence Lost.” In the song Susan personifies sin and the enemy with the piercing words, “you broke into my house, like you had the right to, you didn’t have the right to, you wrecked me, you never made a sound…like a dancer, a smooth romancer…ain’t it just like you, it’s who you are it’s what you do, it’s what you do, take anything you want with no regard of what it does to me…thief...twisting me in all my truth, you mesmerized ‘til I no longer recognized what I believed…thief.” During the song’s bridge, I’m fighting back tears as Susan tells the enemy, “Liar, stealer, I see you, deceiver, It’s just like you, it’s who you are, it’s what you do, it’ll take time but you’ll get yours, you’ll see…thief.” Amen.
“Become Myself” is a melodically-soaring autobiographical song and you will actually physically feel the emotion and cry for “God’s help” so poignantly expressed by Susan as she passionately cries out “I’m on my way, I’ll get back someday, with God’s help, I’ll become myself, yes I will, I will…God hovers over chaos, and He hovers over me, He makes all things beautiful and it’s beautiful to see.” “The Wrong Well” is a piano based reflective ballad about the poor choices we make when “you’re drinking water from the wrong well.” Susan poetically describes how that “looks like life, but it’s stealing your soul, it sounds like truth, but it’s a lie and you know, you tell yourself there’s no harm done, and your heart goes numb” and is a meditative reflection on life and our desperate need for the grace, forgiveness and mercy of God. Susan’s stellar and emotional vocals in many of the songs including “The Wrong Well” cause me to hang on every word she brilliantly sings. Closing track “Not Small” ends the album as strong as it starts, and is a wonderful picture of Susan’s prayer for personal restoration and validation. The lyrics reflect the theme of this mesmerizing album— “Know me, take the time it really takes to know me, go beyond polite consideration, don’t leave me here in silent isolation..I don’t have to be the epic hero, your beginning and your end all…I just want to be…not small.”
Every song on Thief is personal and bears the marks of a life still standing after weathering the storms. Susan’s voice is crystal clear, the music is artistic, the lyrics are thoughtful and challenge listeners to think seriously about the serious things in life. This is a transparent and vulnerable album about finding truth and acceptance in God’s faithful kindness. God will never leave or forsake His children, no matter how far we’ve fallen. These songs are meant to be experienced in order as they take the listener on an emotional journey from a place of confronting our humanity and weakness and crying out for God’s restoration and healing. If you like the female vocalists Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Audrey Assad, then don’t miss out on this incredible album. Susan Ashton’s remarkable singing voice and her interesting music and lyrics are truly captivating. No matter what you are going through in life, God’s promise to His children is that one day we will overcome and He will make “all things new.”
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|A mixed bag for Ashton's return | Posted March 14, 2013
First thing: Susan Ashton retains her stunning voice! Now that's out of the way.....
This EP is unfortunately a mixed bag. I was expecting better. Susan is an incredible singer and interpreter of songs, with a stunning recording history in the 90's, even though it was capped off with the mostly poor-quality album Closer.
One big problem I think is that it is overproduced: Susan thrives with less production.
The stunning title track is the best track on the album. It is very slightly overproduced, with a few "echo's" of her voice. Other than that, it is stunning.
The first track, Moonshine, is dispensable. Nothing special about it. It's boring, and lyrically devoid of anything special. You feel no emotion from it.
Love is Alive showcases Susan's fantastic voice. But the instrumentation and performance just isn't "convincing". This seems like a cover of Joan Osborne's cover--and Osborne takes the cake, no question. And Ashton is once again overproduced with vocal "effects" that are annoying and distracting.
Become Myself seems like an attempt at a radio single--like it's trying to be catchy, but it isn't. Similiar to how Closer seemed like she was trying too hard to be popular. It didn't work on most of the tracks.
The Wrong Well returns to quality material, thankfully. Susan does best on the "sadder" songs. Probably the 2nd best song. This could be a radio single, in the same vein as Carrie Underwood. Sounds like Carrie's kind of song.
The same can be said for the final track, Not Small--It sounds like a Carrie Underwood-type track. This is not a criticism. Not Small is also a very good song, not overproduced.
So this is a mixed bag. Half good, half not so much. Disappointing that given the span between Closer and Thief, there is only this EP to show for it (if you don't count Ashton/Dente/Thumes & the track What Joy). Ashton had released some demos on Myspace some years back--those are not represented here. Although I understand that she did take quite a few years off, for personal reasons, I do feel this could have been better. She could have worked with other artists, such as Mindy Smith (with whom she did colaborate a few years ago). She could have included some stunning covers of lesser known tracks. This just wasn't the way to return after her absence.
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