Folk-rock singer-songwriter Ashley Sofia releases her sophomore album Shades of Blue, a thoughtful collection of songs on our common struggles and victories that connect us. Having been raised in the heart of the Adirondack Mountains, she now resides in Nashville and gathered some 17 musicians, according to the credits, for an album, long in the making, that follows her 2014 debut Love and Fury. Sofia co-produced the album along with Kenny Baumann, and she holds songwriting credits for all baker’s dozen songs. They are about experience or long held feelings from her twenties, delivered more in a ‘70s inspired, rather than the contemporary Nashville sound. She doesn’t rely on a pedal steel, choosing organ and even a sitar instead.
Sofia’s dad, a former merchant marine, taught her the art of storytelling and folk songs on the guitar he traveled the world with. Throughout her twenties, Sofia also traveled extensively, across the United States and those journeys inform these songs. She has already released a single, one of the few real pop sounding tracks, “Make You Love Me Too,” a tale of infatuation written for the feature-length film Goodland. “That Girl is a Rainbow,” with its hand claps and bouncy beat is a perfect singalong car song, talking about genuinely good people that are easily taken for granted.
She eases in with a lush string arrangement behind the relaxed straight forward love song “Slowing Down” in a whispering, sultry voice. The mid-tempo, melodic “Wasted Time” speaks to life on the road and adapting to constant change. “I’ve got wounds and I’ve got scars” opens “Battlewounds,” ending with “Go easy on me/I’ll try my best to go easy on you.” It’s her way of saying we’ve all had struggles and we can all find unity in common suffering.
Sofia certainly seems attached to the word “blue,” which can be found in no less than three titles. “Blue Lights” is another song about life on the road while “Tangerine and Blue” and “Blue Jeans and Blue Eyes” speak to fleeting and enduring romantic situations, finding surprise in each. Another prominent word is “dream” found in both titles and in several lyrics. Dark chords and a haunting sitar imbue “It Was Only a Dream,” creating a desert-like dramatic effect against which Sofia delivers perhaps her best vocal. The bluegrass-infused “Adirondack Dreams” is a paean to her home. It may well become her signature song, about the people the landscape that have shaped her.
The spare acoustic “Winter Prayer,” as she sings with an intimate whisper, is a tribute to loved ones who can still show up on occasion long after their passing. The most surprising tune is “Looking for America,” with its lyrics that speak to today’s political climate, with a ‘70s sound, underpinned by a cello and strings that give it a dark overtone. She ends the album appropriately with an upbeat song about positivity, “Keep Moving On,” at times almost shouting emphatically, a true indication of lessons learned.
Although there are a few places where the album is a bit overproduced, the variety and unpredictability of the tunes keeps it moving nicely. And, there are plenty of other moments when the music is appropriately spare, accenting her clear, intimate delivery. The five year hiatus between albums reveals a more mature Sofia in terms of lyrics and further honing of what some have termed the “21st-century reincarnation of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock sound.” Hopefully we don’t have to wait another five years for the next one.