Jessica Blankenship is the owner and founder of Kentucky Country Music website. The Berea College graduate has been a music journalist and historian for over 20 years. She enjoys providing concert photography, reviews, historical articles, red carpet event coverage, and exclusive interviews of your favorite musicians. Jessica is proud to be a Kentucky Colonel and alumni of the FFA and 4-H Clubs. In 2018, she was named one of Laurel County’s Ten Under 40 Award Recipients. In 2019, she was a member of the Inaugural class of BRIGHT Kentucky as part of Leadership Kentucky. She has been featured on the Kentucky Music Preview podcast, Hollercast podcast, Overtones radio show, WFKY Nashville News Roundup, KET, and more. Beyond music, she enjoys traveling, helping her community, collecting gnomes, and Volkswagens.
Mix country music with southern sass, you find yourselves hearing the sounds of Ashton Shepherd. The Leroy, Alabama native is gearing up for her sophomore release. The first track off the album, “Look It Up,” has been gaining attention and praised by critics. (Read our review here.) I recently got to speak with Ashton about her new album release, new baby on the way, and what keeps her grounded.
For her sophomore release, “Where Country Grows”, Ashton Shepherd decided to go with Buddy Cannon again to produce the album. With the formula of the first album, they really took it to the next level with the new release. “Buddy is very talented and to me, got who I was on this last record and understood where I came from,” according to Ashton. “We were on the same page where we wanted to go with the record. He is such an excellent producer. I don’t have to worry about how it’s going to turn out or over think anything. On my end, I know that I just have to know the songs inside out and go sing them in the studio. I don’t have to feel concerned about the record sounds. He does such a great job in picking songs and going through stuff. He’s a really good person.”
One special moment was when Buddy took a visit to the Pickin Shed where Ashton works on her music, as well as has picking sessions with friends. According to Ashton, “he came down to write with me in the Pickin Shed and James, my boy, had some possums he shot. They [the possums] were on the porch of all things. We’re true rednecks. Buddy had to get some video of it. James was telling him all about this information about the possums and Buddy just got a kick out of that.” It looks as though her son is a true hunter in the making.
In her first album, Ashton Shepherd wrote most of the songs by herself. With this album, she took a new approach by doing co-writes with several well known songwriters. “Co-writing is its own thing. It is exactly what the word is – it is a co-write. I often wondered what is a co-write; what does it consist of, how much does each person put in, how the ideas come about. It was new to wrap my head around having appointments and writing every day. We did it a little different. We took about a week a month for about 8 months trying to find songs for the record. I would come up to Nashville to write. It really broadened me and helped me as a songwriter. I think being able to write songs by yourself is a special ability. Being able to truly co-write a song and still sound like you is something really neat when you never really done it before.”
One person that stood out was Bobby Pinson, who co-wrote “More Cows Than People” and “Where Country Grows.” “He has a way of writing that is just there,” she explained. It was so neat because I also have a way that’s just there. When you put that together, it was really shocking to write. I knew Bobby was talented, but you never know until you sit down and write with somebody what level they are really at. Two others I really like was Troy Jones & Shane McAnally. We hit it off too. I expected them all to be great writers, but I really enjoyed laughing and having a good time with them. I went to church with them and that was really fun.”
The first release, “Look It Up,” has a Kentucky connection as it was written by Angaleena Presley of Beauty, Kentucky. The sassy number is the perfect “kiss off” song to someone who decided to cheat in the relationship, yet begging for forgiveness. Ashton picked the song for the record soon after hearing it. “The fire in it and the fact it was so sassy, but yet it could be done with a smile on your face. It’s not just a ‘I’m mad and I’m going to burn stuff up,’ song but I can smile while doing it because I am really over it at this point. That’s what really drew me to the song. It was just a smartass song. It really drew me because I could say all of that with a smile.”
As the single is gaining airplay, a lot of stuff has been going through her mind. “I always have been proud of what has been going on. It’s hard to not look into the future. You get to thinking where is this going to be in 10 weeks, 15 weeks, etc. Then you think of the timing of the record release and you’re thinking we may have a top 10 record. That’s what we’re aiming for and feel positive about it. You don’t want to say “you are” because you want to stay grounded. It’s a tough world out there with a lot of talent on the radio. We’re crossing our fingers and pushing for a top 10 or even a number 1 record. That’s one thing that stays in my head a lot is being really excited when the album is released.”
One thing is for sure, Ashton Shepherd has proven to stay grounded while being a wife, a mother, and performer. She has balanced her life in her native state of Alabama thanks to family and God. “First and foremost praying about things and having the good Lord as a part of my life is a huge grounding thing for me,” according to Ashton. “Especially the last couple of years, I’ve been going to church. That’s a major thing to know where you are at the end of the day. I feel safer than I use to feel. I always felt the presence of the good Lord in my life, but knowing I feel looked after. I keep feeling like I’m being looked after because I’ve had a very fortunate life. I look at my life sometimes and it feels like He’s been here all my life. The Lord has been there from wanting to be a momma, to having a wonderful childhood life and dreaming of having a good motherhood as a child; always wanting to meet a good old country boy and having someone to love as much as I love my husband Roland and having a little boy that is a mixture of the both of us. It’s been perfect to me. It makes me thankful that I am able to have children and have a career and make this work. I’m thankful to God for having a family that’s been there for me. He’s been there from the time I was a child to even now with my family helping with my little boy. It’s worth more than words could ever describe. That’s one of the ways I’ve been able to stay grounded is thanks to family and God.”
With a balance of family and God, as well as a balance of tradition and country living, Ashton Shepherd’s career in music has shined. Ashton Shepherd’s new release “Where Country Grows, will be available in stores on July 13th. Her current hit, “Look It Up,” is now available for download on I-tunes and Amazon.com.