If you’re wondering why music journalists’ most beloved female country artist of late is South Carolina-born 25-year-old Ashland Craft, look no further than an intriguing place: Bonnie Raitt.
The veteran folk-rocker is a favorite of the honky tonk cover singer and The Voice hopeful, who’s recently found her best groove yet on Travelin’ Kind, her debut album released via Big Loud Records.
Upon deeper study, her adoration of Raitt unveils the best route to understanding why, despite her up-and-coming status, Craft feels like an artist whose raw honesty and powerful country-pop you’ve been connecting with forever.
“My parents have great taste in music, so I started listening to Bonnie in middle school,” notes Craft, speaking to Holler during an day off from her summer tour with the Zac Brown Band. “I connected a lot with her vocally and melodically”.
“I just love to jam,” Craft continues. “The key changes and modulations in ‘Something To Talk About’ [from Raitt’s 1991 album Luck of the Draw] are so good. That song is so relatable and believable. It’s a great, sassy story,” she notes. Dig deeper into her bag of favorite musicians, and what gets discovered becomes the cherry on top of her metaphorical artistic pie:
“Gosh. Growing up, I loved [mid-2000s era R&B artists] like JoJo, Ciara and Beyonce, too.”
Connect the dots between Raitt’s 1991 stylings that “resisted folk gentility” with the vocal character of artists like JoJo. Craft’s grooving, rocking style are similar to JoJo’s hits that err on the side of gospel-tinged soul. When you take a more studied look at Craft after this realization, the power in the timelessness of her music - the sum total of inspirations that require an emotional ear, wisdom beyond one’s years and a strong, soulful core - becomes strikingly apparent.
After listening to Travelin’ Kind, one thing stands out most significantly: Ashland Craft has cornered the market by exceeding the example set by her influences, creating a world-wisened and universally timeless sound.
The album’s latest single, ‘That’s the Kind of Place’, is nearly three years old, Craft says, reflecting just how long she’s been holding onto songs specifically for this album. The process of pulling together material for the release started with the song, which poignantly reminisces on getting “a few miles between a grown-up you and how you used to be”. It enabled the discovering of the thematic note that informs her debut album’s title.
When asked to define exactly how one can find Craft herself within songs like the heartbreak anthem ‘Make It Past Georgia’, she pauses. “I’m a free-hearted, compassionate and hard-working storyteller who loves people, life and using music to act like a friend to my fans and empower them to discover their best selves”, she thoughtfully responds.
“I’m attached to this record because I feel like I found a way to tell my own story so that it’s a bit of everyone else’s story, too,” she adds. “My songwriting team took a lot of the guesswork out of the process. I know who I am and what I want to say, and thankfully, the writers I have around me realize that and allowed me to step into myself and these stories. This doesn’t mean that writing some of these songs was hard - it was. But overall, it was an awesome and pleasurable feeling to write genuine, authentic music.”
Talking of the progression from her roots in sparsely filled barrooms to opening for Zac Brown Band in front of 20,000 people, Craft says, “I’m equally as nervous before I perform. But I remember that I want to entertain everyone, that I want people to connect to my life and find something of their lives in my music, and it allows for something worthwhile to happen.”
As far as the next steps, she says that she wants people to “discover who she is as a person, first and foremost, but also as an artist.” As well, she adds that she’s “passionate about continuing to write good music.” However, when thinking about who she’s becoming as she emerges from the shadow of her inspirations, her next steps could be succinctly identified within one sentence:
Ashland Craft is going to give us something to talk about. And if we ask her to be more specific, she’s likely to respond, “how about love?”
Travelin' Kind is out now via Big Loud Records.