Originally published at The 9513 in May 2010. As best I can tell, Ray is now without a record deal but still playing around town. She has yet to release a full album.
Someday, someone will let Ashley Ray release a full album. The Kansas-bred singer-songwriter first appeared with a four-song digital EP on Capitol Nashville in 2007. At some point, she moved over to Universal South, then survived the merger with Show Dog to release this new five-song EP on Show Dog Universal. Soundwise, it’s another thick-yet-effective Jay Joyce production, similar in texture to the producer’s previous work with Eric Church. Although it’s easy to wish for more restrained backing, Ray’s voice actually works pretty well in this setting: She’s got a hard twang with a nice cry at the top end that cuts right through the clutter, reverb and all.
Working with Jeremy Spillman, Joyce and Ray co-wrote the two tracks that bookend the EP, Miranda-style stompers “My Kind of Mistake” (a carryover from the now unavailable Capitol release) and “Loved By You.” In between, there’s “This Time Around,” a pleasant but nonessential Cody Canada/Randy Rogers collaboration previously recorded by the respective bands of both writers. There’s also lead single “Dirt Cheap,” a Luke Bryan/Dallas Davidson/Hillary Lindsey co-write, given a performance (with harmony assist from Mike Eli) that suggests Ray would do well to spend more time in ballad territory on future outings. Best of all is the Lori McKenna gem “Figured It Out,” with lyrics sharper than anything else here and a chorus melody that opens wide with a woman’s dawning awareness of her own inherent worth apart from relationships she previously allowed to define her.
All told, this is rocking contemporary country with a surer sense of itself than most of what we’re bound to hear from up-and-coming acts in 2010. It’d be interesting to see what Ray could do over the course of a full album, if major labels are still releasing those on acts that aren’t already proven sellers.
Update: They’re not.