Ashley Riley – Set You Free
I’m one of the older reviewers so when listening to Decatur, IL-based singer Ashley Riley with her breathy style, somewhat idiosyncratic yet lovely tone, the manner she accentuates her words – I was back in my teenage 501 jeans & Dingo Boots at Jochems Record store listening to Sandy Posey (“Single Girl,” “I Take It Back”), Robin Ward (“Wonderful Summer”), Diane Renay (“Navy Blue”), & Bonnie & the Treasures (“Home of the Brave”). Sweet country pop tunes that sizzled with infectious melodies & are still in my skin to this day.
Ashley does this with “Close To Me.” A confectionary but a charming one that’s not over-produced or bombastic. Her songs are more serious in nature & that’s added value.
Ms. Riley does it again with “Second Guessing,” where she’s even more engaged. She has a special old-fashion delivery but polishes it so it’s not entirely retro. Her voice doesn’t sound juvenile but does have a youthful Jewel/Joan Osborne tint to her presentation.
The 10-cut Set You Free (Drops June 18–Riled Up Records) is the Riley who has a loyal local following much the same as the late Eva Cassidy. Not all songs deal with happy subjects, but Ashley manages to embody each song with earthy grit & expertise. This genre has many voices so it’s not easy to rise up in that boiling pot & become an entrée. But Ashley serves up quite a dish of tunes with sophistication in her showcase despite a few cliches that sneak in.
For the most part, she has durable material, viable songs. “Oh Song,” is a clear Fleetwood Mac-Stevie Nicks circuit that is open but it’s expressive. There’s consistently vivid guitar work on this CD. Good musicians (not listed individually on the CD). “All Fall Down,” & “Make Me,” are slow & poignant. Very Eva Cassidy/Patty Griffin in tradition & beautiful.
As the CD plays songs become even earthier – despite the comparisons for reference. Ashley does have a uniquely original style that slowly shapes into a purity that will eventually leave comparisons behind. Listen to “We All Need Love” — she owns this style of vocalizing in contemporary country.
A little bit of Nanci Griffith sneaks into “Set You Free,” & it works with the brilliance of the musicians at the helm. They’re all naturally affirming in this music. I like Ashley Riley; she’s diversified without sounding like an imitator of varied established styles. She has class. Someday, I’d like to hear Ashley try some jazz, torch ballads because vocally, I think she can do it. Listen to the final piece “Cut My Losses,” to hear drops of Cassandra Wilson & Nina Simone. Lots of potential there.
The delightful 35-minute CD was produced by James Treichler. Available @ https://ashleyriley.com/