Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh
New Hampshire isn’t exactly the place one would expect to find a budding country star but rising artist Ashley Alexander is out to change that perception with her latest offering, With You. The New Hampshire native has spent the better part of her life engaged in music, first as a member of vocal duo Fantasy, which received great reviews and opened for artists like Lenny Kravitz, J.C. Chasez, and Nick Cannon. But with the release of her solo debut, the artist found herself bit by the country bug and was offered the opportunity to open for Willie Nelson, Luke Bryan, and Chuck Wicks, a seriously high profile gig.
The fan-funded With You builds on that success and shows why Alexander is no one trick pony.
To help deliver her signature blend of country, folk, and rock, Alexander is joined by her longtime bandmates Miles Bergsma, Nate Laguzza, Elliot Schwartzman and Dustin Higgins as well as musical guests Marty Rifkin, Vito Gutilla and Sarah Kovacs who help to round out the sound with their rich experience and talented playing. But it’s Alexander who steps to the front and takes the spotlight here and, nearly every time, steals the show.
Things get off to a killer start with the album’s opening track, the vivacious “So Damn Good.” The artist’s vocals are rich and soulful, the bluesy notes of Marty Rifkin’s dobro swells meeting with rousing organ fills and hits of fiddle and electric guitar in a sexy, sultry showstopper. “Fools Like Us” is a change of pace, the artist opting for a more laid back, folk meets country vibe with warm acoustic guitars and a gentle chorus while “In Your Eyes” is a moody, emotive Appalachian ballad colored with bright banjo plucks and swells of lap steel.
“Letdown” kicks things back into motion with big, bold musical sweeps of organ and riffing guitars that are tailor made for radio before giving way to the heartfelt ballad of “When We Were Us,” Alexander’s vocals sweet and sublime. Conversely, “Take a Step Back” delivers with a Mindy Smith-flavored flair, the mid-tempo arrangement a solid listen that bridges into Americana territory as “On Her Way” finds the artist letting it all hang out, combining a mixture of classic country with more modern flair. The result is a barnburner bound to get folks dancing, rocking out to the honkytonk piano, amazing keyboards, and ripping guitars.
A touch of the lovelorn colors “Nothing Like You,” the arrangement simple and warm as Alexander lets her voice do the heavy lifting, showing that she’s well up to the task of carrying a track. “Looking at Goodbye” lyrically builds on similar sentiments of love and loss but draws from a brighter palette, chunky guitars and percussion leading the way to a fully realized chorus while “My Heart is With You” closes things out with a heartfelt warmth and honesty, something that resonates through the whole of With You.
Ashley Alexander’s sophomore effort shows that her early success has been no fluke. On With You, the artist delivers ten tracks packed with great musicianship and compelling lyricism. And while there is always room for improvement, a tweak here or there, this is one album that will have listeners clamoring for more.