Christina Ashley is a seventeen year old singer whose debut album Let It All Go is set for a February 1st release. Back in the pre-compact disc era, this sprawling seventeen-track, seventy-three minute long collection would have been a double album. That was the first mistake in how this young artist’s release is being handled. Unfortunately it isn’t the only one. Thankfully, a quartet of original tunes are the saving grace of the overly long set.
First things first: Ashley’s vocals are generally on key and not at all unpleasant. Seeing as she co-wrote only four of the seventeen songs (and contributed some brief French horn passages), the entire enterprise is banking on the quality of her voice. Suffice it to say, her voice needs time to mature. There is nothing distinctive about her style (or lack thereof). But doing her no favors is the production by Amber & Rob Whitlock. Everything here sounds as if it were meant for a 1980s-era adult contemporary radio station. The host of session players are tasteful and professional to a fault.
I don’t know if Ashley handpicked the cover songs or if they were assigned to her by the producers. Either way, she has little idea of what to do with songs such as Paul Simon’s “Diamonds On the Soles of Her Shoes” or Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty.” She sings the songs, hitting the notes but missing the emotions. At least a touch of electric guitar in the latter brings something approaching energy to the overriding blandness. Who thought saddling a teenage pop singer with Dan Fogelberg’s “Longer” was a good idea? I’m not suggesting the Whitlocks should’ve chased trends. But surely there had to be something a little hipper to record.
The good news for Ashley is that the more sparsely-produced original tunes generally stand out as the most interesting. This is especially true of the album-closing title track. A simple piano ballad, “Let It All Go” allows Ashley to be herself rather than stiffly delivering museum pieces like Toto’s “Africa” or Heart’s “These Dreams.” She sounds confident as she expresses her personal, intimate lyrics. Another original, “I Remember That Time,” offers a glimpse of what Ashley’s mature voice might eventually sound like. The melody allows her to stay relatively low in her range, which suits her far better than some of the unnaturally high keys she sings in elsewhere. “Away” takes her into Norah Jones territory, another original that stand outs amongst the cobwebby covers.
A great deal of care was obviously invested in Let It All Go. Perhaps an EP of the four originals would’ve presented a better idea of Christina Ashley as a young, developing artist. Maybe plans for a full album could’ve been postponed until additional original material was ready. Whatever the case, I feel sympathetic towards Ashley as a lack of clear vision behind the scenes has left her with a bloated album to promote. Speaking of promotion, I sincerely hope her official website is updated very soon. The fiercely competitive independent music scene makes it all the more important to have a website with biographical information, audio samples, a photo gallery, and video if available. Otherwise, a brand new artist like Christina Ashley can easily be lost in the shuffle.