Fame passing down a generation is a familiar theme in country music; think Cash, Nelson or Jennings just for starters. There are many others. Very soon we are going to see the next example when Ashley Campbell, daughter of Glen, releases her debut album, The Lonely One on 9 March. The following day she is performing a tribute to her father at C2C in London. She is also playing other dates in the UK.
The Lonely One is essentially very high quality country but Campbell also dips into pop and Americana with equal ease as well as demonstrating her bluegrass chops.
Ashley Campbell is best known for the love and care she showed her father, very publicly, in his final years after his Alzheimers had been diagnosed. They toured together in 2016 which appeared to give father and daughter some of the pleasure they gave their audiences around the world. To begin to understand that bond listen to Ashley’s single, “Remembering’ released in 2015, “Daddy don’t you worry, I’ll do the remembering” and read her poignant tribute handwritten on a single side of paper after his passing last August.
The Lonely One contains many clear signs of that love but it also marks the next stage; Ashley Campbell as an artist in her own right. Having put her own career on hold to care for Glen, now we are seeing what she can do and it is mightily impressive.
Inevitably, and rightly, Glen Campbell is a big influence. How couldn’t he be? However, we also see some of Ashley Campbell’s other influences; Kacey Musgraves, Maren Morris and the group who got her into country music, The Dixie Chicks.
It’s no surprise that this is a very personal album. Campbell has worked on it for four years and it represents various types of being alone. There’s certainly no self-pity here, she seems not to mind being on her own, seeing it more as a sign of independence. Family too runs through the album. Campbell produced the record with her brother Cal at his Los Angeles studio. She co-wrote two songs with her other brother Shannon who played guitar and sang backing vocals as well.
The production and arrangements are polished, brother Cal has created a big sound but it all sets up Ashley’s distinctive voice. That is what made the most immediate impression right from the opening track, ‘A New Year’ where a smooth rhythm leads into Campbell’s luxuriant voice. The pace picks up into quite a pop beat and it’s clear why this song has been released already as a single.
Ashley Campbell’s accomplished banjo playing opens and underscores ‘Cry’, a moody lament where she gives vent to a much wider vocal range. The result is much more satisfying. Kacey Musgraves springs immediately to mind on ‘Better Boyfriend’ in both lyric and vocals. This is great contemporary country.
Title track, ‘The Lonely One’ harks back to the queens of country as Campbell deals with the familiar consequences of two-timing. A gentle lilt, almost Tex-Mex, guides her through the perils of infidelity. Again, Campbell puts a modern twist on one of country music’s most enduring themes.
Another banjo line runs through ‘Good For You’. Loneliness runs through this song of heartbreak as a young marriage collapses but despite her pain Campbell admits’ “she’s good for you”. Slower still is, ‘I Wish I Wanted To’ where Campbell explains you can be alone when you’re close to another person, just the wrong one.
For someone who once thought bluegrass was for boring men in suits, Ashley Campbell has taken to the style with enthusiasm as instrumental ‘Carl & Ashley’s Breakdown’ amply proves. After the first couple of tracks on this album, a bluegrass instrumental isn’t something you’d anticipate but it just shows her versatility.
Rejection cannot be more vividly expressed than on ‘What I’m Doin’ Here’. “I didn’t come to get drunk/ I didn’t come here to get high/ but when I see you with her/well, hell I just might”. “Last call for losers but who’s keeping score”.
Last but one, ‘Looks Like Time’ is my favourite. Campbell gives another country staple, the irresistible wrong ‘un, the benefit of her razor-sharp lyrics and soaring voice to leave a memorable image, “looks like time has kicked your ass” but “it sure is great to see you tonight”.
In The Lonely One Ashley Campbell puts her own stamp on country music. Dad would have been so proud at how she and her brothers have displayed how the genre remains such a compelling way to express feelings.