For women in country music in 2018 there appears to be two distinct paths to success: embrace pop trends in the hope of gaining one of the very rare slots available on radio or plough a more alternative Americana furrow in the hope of gaining credibility as an independent artist. The problem then is what happens to women who fall somewhere in between the two worlds. Ashley Campbell has a natural poppy style but like Kacey Musgraves before her, she embraces tradition and actually plays instruments. Where she fits in the industry is hard to say but The Lonely One is a fun and varied listen, showcasing a promising talent who deserves to be recognised on her own merit.
The album opens with the lines ‘I won’t be perfect/ Maybe I’ll make mistakes but it’ll be worth it’ and that quiet modesty seems to sum up Ashley’s approach to songwriting. New Year is an optimistic slice of Californian sunshine, breezing past in a blissful haze. Sure it’s not exactly country but neither does it chase obvious pop trends either.
Cry in contrast does display country influences, with her excellent banjo skills taking centre stage. There’s a little bit of sass present in the lyrics too, as she hopes the man who betrayed her will suffer, singing ‘I want to see you bleed’. Ashley’s voice is sugary sweet and I really like the distinctiveness to her tone.
Better Boyfriend is a little feminist anthem where she lampoons her useless other half. Hearing this one live was a highlight of the C2C festival for me (read my review of the Glasgow show here). Perhaps it does lose a little of its punch on record but it’s still a brilliantly catchy singalong. Similarly Looks Like Time is another feisty slice of fun, and it’s nice to hear that humour coming through in her songwriting. Also credit to her excellent fiddle player who really adds some fine touches to this album.
Title track The Lonely One is one of the best songs on the album, inspired by Linda Ronstadt and echoing Blue Bayou. She twists expectations so it’s actually the cheating man who ends up the lonely one of the album title. The simplicity of I Wish I Wanted To showcases the subtle feminine strengths of her voice and she really shines in this stripped-back folky style.
Another nice touch is having her godfather Carl Jackson feature on a bluegrass instrumental. Carl worked with her father Glen, and helped to teach her banjo in the first place, so it is fitting that he plays on the record. It is a only a shame then that her poignant tribute song to her father, Remembering, does not gain a place on the tracklisting.
The album finishes with the perfect little love song ‘Nothing Day’, in which she compares all her wild life experiences and concludes that there’s nothing better than wasting a day with the one she loves.
Overall the album does have some filler padding it out, and maybe the production could have benefitted from emphasising the rootsier aspects of her sound but there is enough spark and sparkle to make it an enjoyable listen. The Lonely One conveys a real sense of Ashley’s personality and she’s definitely worth spending some quality time with.