MCA Nashville singer/songwriter Ashton Shepherd will release her second album, Where Country Grows, on July 12.
Look It Up, the album’s debut single and the first song she recorded for this project, has become the fastest-rising hit of her career and currently sits at No. 21 on the Billboard country singles chart.
Where Country Grows is the much-anticipated follow-up to her 2008 debut, Sounds So Good, and captures her impressive songwriting and singing evolution she’s made over the last few years. She wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 10 songs on the new album, which was produced by Buddy Cannon.
“I felt like I had a basic plan for this record,” Shepherd says. “You’ve got your first record behind you; you’ve learned some things. Your sophomore record – I heard from all these people – is supposed to be different. It’s supposed to be another factor and define you a little more. I’m thinking, ‘How am I going to do this?’”
One new approach was to spend time with several of Nashville’s prominent songwriters, including Dean Dillon, Dale Dodson, Bobby Pinson and Troy Jones, to see if these collaborations could inspire new sounds or themes. The strategy worked.
“I was just a little scared of it, since I’d never co-written before,” says Shepherd. “Once I started, I really, really enjoyed it. I felt like we had plenty of songs to choose from. So the angle on this record was trying to define Ashton Shepherd in a different way, maybe dig just a little bit deeper and try and put some different kinds of songs on it.
“I was listening back to the record, thinking, ‘This has something for everybody on it.’ I think we’ve accomplished that,” says Shepherd, who wrote by herself two of the album’s most powerful songs – I’m Just a Woman and Rory’s Radio.
The songs from Where Country Grows have already taken her live shows in an exciting new direction. “This record is more tempo-heavy. The first record was very country with all the ballads,” she says. “It made it kind of hard to do live shows, because you had 11 songs and six of them were ballads. Now, we’ve got a good little handful of spunky songs that I think people will really like to sing along with and enjoy on this record.”
While the serious nature of her debut album may have presented challenges with creating set lists, 2008’s appropriately titled Sounds So Good earned tremendous reviews from music critics.
While Shepherd is grateful for the accolades and attention, she remains focused on connecting with fans one song at a time. “What inspired me to be a country artist was growing up listening to country music and seeing the impact that it has on people, seeing how it can change people’s lives,” says the resident of Leroy, Alabama. “It can put a smile on somebody’s face when they turn on the radio.
“Or if it’s a sad song, it can make people feel better. Sometimes you need to hear one of those to help you climb through something that you’re going through: ‘Hey, somebody else feels sad too.’ So that’s my main thing about being in country music, trying to help people and be a part of people’s lives.”