Big Loud Records / Back Blocks Music
Release Date: July 21st 2023
Reviewed by: Joshua Andre
- Tastes Like
- It’s Been A Year
- See You Around (feat. Nate Smith)
- Shot In The Dark
- Moving On with Grace
- Getting Into
- Enough To Leave
- I Almost Do
- Mean Girl (feat. Colbie Caillat)
- Running Back
- Good Thing Going
- Next To You
- Good To Be Back
- What Are You On Fire About? (feat. Jackson Dean)
- Say No More
- Tryin’ To Love You
- Back In The Saddle
- Your Place
- Dirt On ‘Em
- Build A Bridge
- Get You
- Never Til’ Now (feat. Brett Young)
- Gonna Get
- State I’m In
I’ve mentioned before many a time (maybe too many times?)- that country music and myself didn’t have the greatest of starts- we weren’t always best friends. While you can read all of our country music reviews here (inclusive of albums from artists like Tim McGraw, Maddie & Tae, Kelsea Ballerini, Keith Urban, Breland, Cassadee Pope, Kane Brown, Carrie Underwood, Thomas Rhett, Jimmie Allen, Florida Georgia Line, Carly Pearce, Lauren Alaina, Lindsay Ell, Chris Stapleton, Gabby Barrett, Caylee Hammack, Brett Eldredge, Blake Shelton, and Ingrid Andress to name a few… or to actually name a lot!); originally a few years ago, I used to think that songs about cars and girls and beer and trucks and the American way of life… would be songs that I would not connect with at all. However, as is the case with God working in mysterious ways (and through me discovering Grady Smith, a country reviewer, and his extensive YouTube channel whereby he reviews country music; and this has slowly but surely helped me become more of a country music fan!), I have in fact found out that despite not being an American, the country genre is essentially one of the few genres outside of CCM that I have connected and resonated with immensely.
On the outside it might seem to be weird and strange, but a deeper look reveals that it may not be that weird or strange after all. Since country songs are all about storytelling and speaking about a way of life that is focused on your values, morals, ethics, and your faith; that’s the kind of lifestyle and songs that I resonated with. Simple, yet effective story telling about the real issues of life. And with that broad approach of this ‘introduction’, can I say that I actually owe Apple Music gratitude and thanks for directing me to the next artist I’m reviewing a project from? Up and coming country artist Ashley Cooke is an artist that I knew nothing about last year prior to me reviewing her EP Already Drank That Beer: Side A. But as I’ve decided to be more active in my discovering of music this year, I decided to investigate the ‘new music’ and the ‘pre-orders’ section of Apple Music. The rest is history- as I discovered Ashley’s 8-track EP Already Drank That Beer: Side A, listened to her 4 pre-order songs, and quickly anticipated and actually became excited for the EP to drop last year. You can read our review about Ashley’s EP here; but now, Ashley is back with a brand new project. A 24 song long debut full length album called Shot In The Dark which released this past July; the 75 minute album reminds us about Ashley’s growing stature as a bonafide country artist; and while Ashley may not be a household name, with this extensive track list (which could’ve been released as two albums or even on two discs instead of one album!) on the back of a fantastic EP, Ashley has a great platform to show the world why she is one of the biggest rising country stars at the moment.
[the album’s] 24 songs, which I’m really excited about. It’s basically a double album for my debut album, which I’m really honoured that I have a team let me do that, because that’s not very standard for a new artist to drop their first album being 24 songs. So I’m really excited about it. I honestly just started writing and started, you know, just kind of putting all of the experiences that I’ve had the last couple years. I just turned 26 and being in this phase of my life and you’re in love and family and just kind of figuring out who I am, what I want to say, you know, all of it – it’s a lot to manage. And so I started just writing, which has kind of always been my my release.
I picked the title ‘shot in the dark’, which is a song on the album, but it’s also just the title of the project. Because I feel so much of my career up to this point has been such a shot in the dark. Like, you know, I first was deciding to pursue music in 2019 full time. And then the pandemic happened. And so I had to go on social media, and it was like a totally different plan for my life than I had originally anticipated. So it’s really fun. And it’s been such an awesome journey. And I feel like that just really encompasses a lot of what I’ve experienced and that it’s okay to take risks and to take shots and to see what happens and sometimes things stick, sometimes they don’t, but we’re just kind of all on this journey in life to figure out what works, and that’s just kind of felt like the epitome of what my career has been so far.
Obviously 24 songs is a lot of songs to figure out which order goes together. But I played a lot of live shows the last couple of years and I fell in love with setlist building and all of that. And so to me, I tried to structure it as a live show as the best I could. If somebody’s in their car playing this or on their Air Pods listening to it, what would they want to have the structure feel like and how would we take them on a journey together. And so I thought of it as like two separate albums, like the first 12 and second 12, and kind of structured it that way. And the track number 12 is called ‘next to you’. And that’s the only song on the record that I wrote completely by myself. And so I kind of felt like it’s my lucky number, it’s in the middle of the tracks. It just kind of felt right. But it was definitely tough. And I chose the first song which is ‘tastes like’ and the last song which is ‘state i’m in’, I chose them for a reason. I felt like ‘tastes like’ felt like a party fun song and then ‘state i’m in’ felt like the perfect cap to a debut album. So yeah, I definitely put a lot of thought into it. We all kind of sat down and had to hash it out and figure it out. There was a lot of different rough drafts of what it could be. But I think the tracklisting flows very well.
Country music is all about storytelling and making us feel a smorgasbord of emotions. After all, it is the stories that made me fall in love with the genre over the past few years. Ashley’s new songs further solidify my thinking and cements the view that country artists are possibly more vulnerable and honest than CCM artists. And that’s not a bad thing- it’s a good thing. “Tastes Like” has Ashley describing the taste of any type of alcohol when you are trying to get over an ex, and the reality of the drink only numbing your pain and your feelings- but the drink also amplifying your feelings of loneliness during the wee hours of the morning beyond midnight when everyone is sleeping and you’re still crying; while the contemplative, reflective and vulnerable acoustic guitar ballad “It’s Been a Year” speaks about looking back on the year that was and thinking about where you have been, where you are now, and your hopes and dreams for the future. “See You Around”, with newcomer Nate Smith on guest vocals, speaks about not being over your ex, and still ‘seeing’ them everywhere you look (which signifies that you’re still human and that healing takes time!); while the title track honours Ashley’s current relationship, and looks back on their first meeting, in which two people took a shot in the dark and took a risk to get them to where they are now.
“Moving On With Grace”, a heartbreaking rock melody about Ashley’s ex moving on with a girl called Grace from the guy’s church, also has Ashley singing about moving on with ‘Jack’ (aka Jack Daniels the drink!); while “Getting Into”, an honest and poignant pop/country melody, speaks about Ashley wanting to let her current partner know her story, her hangups and her issues- she wants him to know what he’s getting into before the relationship rather than to be surprised. And as this song speaks about honesty and vulnerability and admitting to those around us that we’re not ok, and that’s actually ok; this song can also provide healing and solace to someone, and that’s definitely a good thing! “Enough To Leave”, a moving, emotional, and heartbreaking piano ballad, speaks about Ashley dumping her ex (same ex or different ex? You be the judge!) because she realises that she cannot give him what he wants and that she loves him enough to leave; while “I Almost Do” features Ashley admitting that she sometimes thinks about driving to her ex’s house to proclaim that she still loves him. “Mean Girl”, with Colbie Caillat on guest vocals, is similar in theme to “Never Wanted To Be That Girl” or “Next Girl” (both from Carly Pearce), as the former and current girlfriends of a guy converse in the song and find out that the guy isn’t who he claims to be- a theme that’s prevalent in movies like The Other Woman. “Running Back”, a reflective and contemplative piano ballad, speaks about Ashley admitting that she still has some kind of feelings for her ex (even if it may not be heathy), and that she will run back to him if he wanted her to; while “Good Thing Going” speaks about Ashley’s insecurities and fears that a relationship will end once she realises that she has a good thing going, and that ‘…I don’t wanna slow it down or give it up, yeah, I’ve never been more afraid of love, ’cause we got a good thing going on, I’d hate to see a good thing going wrong…’.
“Next To You”, an acoustic guitar led ballad, speaks about the bliss one feels in the early days of a relationship and wanting to be in your bubble with the other person for as long as possible; while the country rock melody “Good To Be Back” has Ashley appreciating the sight of ‘her bar’ long after her and her partner have broken up- with this song signifying a new lease on life and a new step in another direction and another page in life. “What Are You On Fire About?”, with Jackson Dean, is a confrontational melody where Ashley confronts her partner in the song, and asks him who makes him happy, because it isn’t her; while “Say No More” is similar in theme to the previous song, with Ashley now issuing an ultimatum to her ex, and crying out ‘…when it’s 2AM and you’re all alone, you won’t get me on the phone, sayin’ “Come over, come over”, ’cause if it’s over, it’s over, when it’s Friday night, I won’t say “Been thinkin’ ’bout you all damn day”, no more “Hey, I miss you too”s, and no more random “I love you”s, all the little things you heard me say before, you won’t hear me say no more…’. “Tryin’ To Love You”, a revealing and honest melody, speaks about not being fully able to commit to someone, because of the fact that you cannot love them to the extent that they love you; while “Back In The Saddle”, a breakup song/getting over someone type of song, reminds us all that sometimes healing from hurt and pain and broken relationships looks like being in another relationship (whether romantic or platonic)- and that’s more than ok.
“Your Place”, a powerful melody where Ashley reprimands her ex for always trying to insert himself back into her life in a platonic setting, also reminds us that sometimes being friends with your ex doesn’t work, even if it may work in that rare, rare, instance; while “Dirt On ‘Em” is a fun, sassy, bubbly tune, about how Ashley prefers guys with ‘dirt on him’- a reference to either someone working hard at their white-collar or blue-collar job, or to someone with a colourful and interesting past. “Build A Bridge” is a piano led melody about letting your ex know that they have to own up for their actions and their part in the downfall of the unhealthy relationship; while “Get You” speaks about Ashley’s inquisitiveness with her ex’s new flame, and wondering why they don’t ‘get’ each other in the same way that she and her ex did. The moving and thought-provoking “Never Til Now”, sung with Brett Young, is a piano and acoustic guitar led melody whereby Ashley powerfully relays that she would now like to settle down with her partner, and that she previously never wanted to have a normal life until she met the- the track should be what we’d want to aspire to in terms of our mindset, as we wait on God for Him to show us the person that we would spend the rest of our life with. “Gonna Get”, a melody where Ashley’s ex laments that she’s the one that got away, speaks about cherishing the important relationships right now and in the present while we still have them; while Shot In the Dark ends with the reflective and introspective “State I’m In”, a melody in which Ashley champions the plights and journeys of her friends, even though they’re in different states (physically and metaphorically) to each other: I thought of the album in the same way I would a live show. This song felt like, “Welcome to this era of my music.” With this song, I was driving through somewhere in Ohio or Indiana, touring in the van. It was 1:00 a.m. and I was scrolling Instagram, seeing a bunch of my friends posting about getting married and having babies and just being in that state of life. I just felt how cool it was that we can be in different phases and states and support each other. So I had the idea because we were in different states, physically and metaphorically. And so that sounds like the perfect album cap, because it felt like the place I’m at. I can be a very indecisive person, but it was like, “No, I know where I’m at — and it’s okay to be totally in love with my career and doing this full-time right now.
I would say [what I’ve learnt is] don’t try to chase any sounds. I think there was a point in the writing process where I was like, “Well, I think I need to have this kind of thing, and maybe this is cool, because this person did it and this thing”. And every time without fail when I walked into a writing room or in a situation where I tried to chase something, I would walk out with something that didn’t feel like me. It didn’t feel like the reasons that I love what I create, and the reasons why a lot of people seem to love what I create, too. And so I’d be turning the songs into my publishers and my managers and they’d be like, “I mean, they’re all right”. And I was like, “Ah!”
And then without a fail, the songs like ‘next to you’, I just kind of stumbled around it and ended up being a song everybody loved and felt like me. So I think what I’ve learned in all of this is just continuously do what feels like you because every single song on this 24 song album, whether I wrote them or didn’t, feels like me, a version of me. And something that I can stand behind and tell a 20 minute story about each song, about why I love them and why it feels like me. And that’s really important for artists to have, I think, to be able to stand behind their art and defend it and say this is why this is me. It’s not because it sounded like a radio single, because it sounded like me.
Ashley Cooke is an artist that I probably wouldn’t have listened to had it not been for my proactiveness in searching for new artists to listen to. And such perhaps the radio isn’t this big thing that we originally envisioned. Maybe streaming is the way to go moving forward? Social media? Tik Tok even though it’s not targeted to my generation? Regardless, I reckon that Ashley is going to be a star in the coming months and years. She is already making waves on TikTok… so I guess things are moving on the up and up? For me to guess what would be next would be foolish… so let’s just bask in and enjoy that music that is Ashley Cooke. Let’s eagerly anticipate something new (whether it is new standalone singles or another album or other collaborations, however that looks like), and let us thank God for her talent and delivering emotional and honest melodies. Well done, Ashley, I can’t wait to hear what God has in store for you next!
7 songs to listen to: It’s Been A Year, Mean Girl, Running Back, Good To Be Back, Dirt On ‘Em, Never til Now, State I’m In
RIYL: Jimmie Allen, Kelsea Ballerini, Breland, Mickey Guyton, Thomas Rhett, Kacey Musgraves