One of Our Most Under-Appreciated Artists
Posted February 03, 2018
The first time I saw three-time Grammy winner Ashley Cleveland was outdoors at the Cornerstone Musical Festival years ago. I was blown away by this guitar playing artist with a powerful bluesy voice who reminded me of Bonnie Raitt. I would see her several more times over the years, including a few times playing her heart out for a small group of people at the Jesus House, a local inner-city mission in the community I live in. I’m convinced that she is one of rock music’s most under-appreciated talents.
This is her tenth album, and it is produced by husband and guitarist Kenny Greenberg. Cleveland wrote 6 of the 11 songs on the album. She has stated that all of the songs are very autobiographical. The songs travel along themes of addiction recovery and loss, loving – or attempting to love – those who are different from her, her children becoming adults and leaving home, aging and the joy and solace of her faith and the struggle to live it out in a broken world. Cleveland is working on a documentary titled Who’s the Girl, which will feature some of these songs. Below are a few comments on each song, all of which feature Cleveland’s powerful vocals and Greenberg’s excellent guitar work:
Way Out of No Way – This song was written by Cleveland. It’s a strong opener featuring powerful vocals and excellent guitar work from Greenberg. It’s an autobiographical song about her start in music, drinking and her need for a Savior.
Down by the Riverside – This arrangement from Cleveland features acoustic and electric guitars, including an excellent solo, organ, drums and backing vocals. Key lyric: I'm gonna lay down my sword and shield, down by the riverside, I'm gonna study, study, war no more
Crooked Heart – This is a slower, reflective acoustic song written by Cleveland, Rachel Yellen and Jameson Fuller. It begins with acoustic guitar and includes some light electric guitar. Key lyric: I love my crooked neighbor with my crooked heart.
Lily Grown Wild – This song is written by Cleveland about her youngest child leaving home. This guitar driven song has a Rolling Stones vibe to it (Ashley has previously covered the band’s song “Gimme Shelter”). The song is about children becoming adults and the struggle of learning to let go. A definite highlight.
Take Me to the Water/Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan – This arrangement from Cleveland includes her powerful vocals, acoustic guitar and organ. It starts slowly and as it transitions to “Cool Down by the Banks of Jordan”, where Jesus is going to meet us there. Driven by Greenberg’s guitar, you’ll not be able keep still. Features an excellent guitar solo.
Halfway Down – This song is written by Jim Lauderdale and was made popular by country artist Patty Loveless in 1995. It includes keys, bass, guitar, including a couple of solos, and organ. Key lyric: Halfway down, just a getting started, Yes, I’m beginning on my journey now.
To Be Good – This is a slower, reflective acoustic song written by Cleveland and Winston Yellen. It begins with acoustic guitar and includes some light drums and electric guitar, with a mid-song solo. It is a reflection of the end of one’s life. Key lyric: All I ever wanted was to be good.
Ezekiel 2 – This song was written by Cleveland and Phil Keaggy. “Ezekiel” appeared on Phil Keaggy’s excellent 2016 album All at Once. On that bluesy rocker, Ashley sang a duet with Phil, their voices blending well. Both that song and “Ezekiel 2” are about the valley of dry bones from chapter 37 of the book of Ezekiel. “Ezekiel 2” is faster, with Ashley’s powerful vocal and Greenberg providing some excellent guitar work, including a nice solo.
One More Song – This song, written by Cleveland is based on a story that Cleveland’s mother told her on a trip to the Smokey Mountains to see their old cabin for the last time. It’s about a memory that her mother shared from her own childhood with older sister Betsy. It’s an acoustic based song with a good guitar solo.
Walk in Jerusalem – This song originally appeared on Cleveland’s excellent 2012 album Beauty in the Curve. You won’t be able to keep still when listening to this song, which features some excellent guitar work, including a mid-song solo, from Greenberg, and a joyous vocal from Cleveland.
Born to Preach the Gospel – This song also originally appeared on Cleveland’s album Beauty in the Curve. The song starts slow in a slow groove with Greenberg’s guitar, and then powerfully builds up steam. The song features a mid-song guitar solo and organ. Key lyric: I was born to preach the Gospel, and I sure do love my job.
Overall, this is another strong effort from a very under-appreciated artist.
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