Album Review: Ashley Ray – Pauline

Ashley Ray was raised on a farm in Lawrence, Kansas before moving to Nashville to study and pursue her dream of a career in music. Her brilliant new album ‘Pauline’ is named after her grandmother, and her own middle name. Across these ten songs she delves deep into her family history, with powerful and poignant results.

The songs on the album were written with producer and frequent collaborator Sean McConnell (they also wrote the Grammy nominated song ‘The Daughters’ by Little Big Town together) and you can tell that working with a friend who she knows well has been beneficial, especially on such a personal project.

Her mother’s voice begins the album, discussing the woman who gave this album its name. The song then spins out the idea of what we inherit from our family, the strange truth of bloodlines. The delivery has a little grit and intensity, especially on lines like I never listen, call me Pauline. There’s such an atmospheric feeling to the song, almost as though the ghost of her grandmother is singing along with her.

From there she begins to look back to her childhood, dreaming of returning to where she grew up in Lawrence, Kansas. Her vocal is softer, quieter suggesting the place is a retreat and a welcome place of rest.

Dirty Work is a raw and grimy little song, about what it’s like living on the other side of the tracks. These songs are sung by a woman who sounds like she understands strife and striving.

The truth of her pain is revealed on St Patrick’s Day, exploring memories of her family and her late father. Grief contains joy and pain, and she conveys both those feelings so beautifully on this song.

After that moment she cuts a little loose, goes a little rock and roll on Slurry. The slightly abrasive musical style suits her voice and works to build a picture of where she comes from and how she lives her life now.

Warm Body aches with longing and the need to connect, a song that understands loneliness in the way the best country songs should. Just a House is similarly stunning, a heartbreaking plea to her mother to move on from her father’s death. The words feel so real and personal, like we are eavesdropping on their conversation, and yet the metaphor works on a universal level too. Sometimes we all need help to accept reality and move forwards in life.

Off the Wagon Again is another knock out performance, a real anti-love song featuring lovely Caroline Spence as well. Waiting takes us into her present and the daily grind of trying to make it in Nashville while waiting tables. She connects her own dreams to that of her hard working family, never giving up hope she might catch a break. By the end of the these songs she’s given us everything, and I really hope that such honest, authentic music will be rewarded with the audience it so deserves.

Pauline is the kind of revelatory album you dream of discovering. Ashley Ray has given us a real gift and, for me, it’s one of the best Americana albums of the year so far.

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