For her exclusive Ram Country acoustic performance of "Where Country Grows," Ashton Shepherd and her guitarist took it to the banks of Nashville's Cumberland River... where they had thousands of backup singers.
When Shepherd and the Yahoo! Music crew walked through the trees and arrived at their scenic riverside location in June, it became clear that the noisy bugs that hatch only every 13 years in the South were going to be picked up by the microphones, no matter what. So when life gives you a plague of cicadas... make cicada-ade, right?
Shepherd was a little confused, when she got to Nashville, by everyone calling the giant bugs by the lovely name of "cicadas," when, growing up in Alabama, she knew them by a different name. "Mommy and daddy always said they were the 13-year locusts. And when I think back on that sound"—she makes a low roar—"that we'd hear in the summer, I thought they were katydids. So am I confused all the way around or what? Maybe somebody will hear my plea and answer me on Twitter or something."
What we know for sure is that it becomes a sweet sound in tandem with the sound of Shepherd's new single, which is also the title of her July 12 sophomore album. "Where Country Grows" is the second single from the release (following the earlier top 20 hit "Look It Up"). In its regionally celebrative spirit, it's a little reminiscent of the second single from her first album, we couldn't help but point out when we took her aside for a chat between takes.
Ashton agreed. "To me, 'Where Country Grows' is the 'Sounds So Good' of this record," she said. "It's kind of odd, because it's going to be the title track, and 'Sounds So Good' was the title track of my other record. I feel like it has that same kind of feel to it—just a little eye-opener for people and a feel-good song for folks."
If anybody knows where country grows, it's Shepherd. You couldn't take the twang out of her with a load of dynamite. "I'm from Coffeeville, Alabama, and I grew up there, am still there—been there all my life. My parents are fixin' to be 60, and they got married there and have been in the same place since they were 15 years old. I've got a lot of Southern-heritage roots there. What I guess you would call your manners and your respect level for people—just the way you carry yourself—is sort of, in this generation, getting forgotten about a little bit. And I think this song brings it back to light."
Although "Where Country Grows" does recall an earlier hit of hers, both this and "Sounds So Good" are slight anomalies in her catalog, as far as being completely upbeat, carefree songs. A lot of her other tunes—like this album's first single, "Look It Up," and the previous album's debut single, "Takin' Off This Pain"—are battle-of-the-sexes songs that have had her musically righting a wayward man's wrongs. In that way, she's really this generation's Loretta Lynn.
Shepherd admits she specializes in "heartache songs—real songs about what people really live through. There's a lot of people in some really happy relationships right now, but you can bet they had their problems somewhere. Maybe it was a little trouble and maybe it was a lot. But everybody can sing along about having trouble sometimes, and I think people need to know that they're not the only ones."
Shepherd doesn't look overly troubled right now, though—unless you count the trouble of keeping an acoustic guitar balanced over her belly while she's pregnant and decidedly showing.
"Yeah, I'm a happy lady, I really am," she says. "I've been married six years. As a matter of fact, we just had our anniversary (during CMA Festival week). I've got a 5-year-old little boy. Got a baby on the way. I'm very fortunate and very blessed. But I can get sassy—trust me."