Ever been to Upstate New York? Anywhere north of, say, Poughkeepsie? It ain’t the city. It’s where I grew up. It’s got a topography that will remind you of Texas’ Hill Country, a fleeting economy befitting the Rust Belt, a sociopolitical climate not unlike that of Kentucky, annual rainfall rivaling that of Seattle, and long, LONG winters. With all of those characteristics, it’s a small wonder that more great music hasn’t come out of this region – this is, after all, the part of the world that hosted Woodstock. But there are pockets of creativity – the Catskill Mountains were once known as a comedic Mecca. Here at Americana Highways, though, we talk music, and today, we’re talking Ashley Sofia. Her second album, Shades of Blue, reflects her folk music upbringing in the Adirondack Mountains, her travels across the country, and her recent relocation to Nashville.
“Slowing Down” leads off the album, and it provides both a message of maturity and some of the unusual instrumentation on the record, with Alex Stradal’s cello introducing the tune (Stradal, of Nashville band South for Winter, appears on three tracks). Sofia thinks of the changes that age have wrought, from abandoning the party circuit to seeing potential permanence in love: “But when I met you I learned/Why the stars above will still burn/Long after they’ve served their turn.” “Wasted Time,” though, finds the other side of the long term, as one partner is on the move while the other is homebound: “He’s been moving, she’s been sitting still/But she feels as if she’s slowly being killed.” And she argues that we only notice the “wasted time” after it’s too late.
The Upstate feel comes across most, aptly enough, when Sofia sings of home. Her voice is reminiscent of Amanda Shires’, but deepened by one too many endless winters. “Winter Prayer” recalls those cold nights in a tale of love and loss: “And it hurts to breathe/Mostly ‘cause you’re not around/And I love you/Yes, I do.” Happier is a song about a trip home, “Adirondack Dreams”. While geographically specific to Upstate – “The temperature’s dropping/The trees are getting taller” – it conjures up the near-universal feeling of returning to a happy childhood home: “I can close my eyes real tight/And I’m almost home.” And “Battlewounds” addresses a contradiction in small towns everywhere – pegging someone you’ve known forever with characteristics that don’t begin to define them: seemingly lazy high school dropouts, misunderstood bullies, rich folks silently suffering through personal tragedies. Sofia expresses an understanding, even a begrudging respect for these strugglers and stragglers: “So, you should go easy on them/And I’ll do my best to go easy on you.”
Sofia’s wanderlust and some Nashville creativity show up in the road song “It Was Only A Dream.” Her acoustic guitar and Roger Jaeger’s sitar (yes, sitar) bounce off each other while she sings her way through a dying relationship: “Darling, I can let you go/But I think that we’ll spend the next fifty years/Just trying to get back home.” And, like many young singer-songwriters, she struggles with the pull and pushback of potential fame – in the dirge-ish “Blue Lights,” she relates interactions with listeners and other hangers-on: “You’ve got the brains and you’ve got the look/One day we’ll laugh at how long this took.” No matter how long it does take, though, she’s in it – “Keep Moving On” has a reluctant optimism shared by many young musicians: “I’m learning how to forgiveEven if I have not forgottenI’m learning how to acceptAn apology that I never got.” She’s young, she has a gift, and she knows that the bad stuff is there, but not all-encompassing – “You’ll be loved and all alone” – so on she moves.
All songs on Shades of Blue were penned by Sofia, and the album was co-produced by Kenny Baumann and Sofia and mixed and mastered by Johnny Garcia. Additional musicians include Mike Degener (piano), Brandon Noreck (organ), Dan O’Rourke (guitar), Baumann (guitar, bass, percussion and background vocals), Andrew Brown (bass), Addison Boling (drums), Dave DeLoach (mandolin), and Garcia (guitar).
You can order Shades of Blue here: https://ashleysofia.com/product/331742