Ashley Wright and the Vance Gap Ramblers, too good to be true (self-released)
Find it: facebook.com/AshleyWrightVGR
Having only performed live as an acoustic trio for less than a year, Ashley Wright and the Vance Gap Ramblers have established Wright’s Appalachian tenor as one of Columbia’s most sincere songwriting voices. Backed by her husband and songwriting partner Travis Wright and an all-star roster of veteran Columbia musicians, the full-length debut too good to be true shows Wright stretching her stylistic range, adding full-band weight to a blend of pastoral folk and archetypal country songs that comprise a striking 34 minutes.
Seeking to bring over five years of songwriting work to fruition, the group enlisted Kenny McWilliams of Archer Avenue Studio to engineer and co-produce the record. Guitarist and third member of the Ramblers’ live trio, Dan Gibbs, drummer Gavin Brown of The Runout and bassist Chad Rochester of Real Work joined the project as the studio band, holing up with the Wrights and McWilliams at Asheville’s hallowed Echo Mountain Recording studio for a full weekend of tracking.
The move to bring in a full band is a significant sonic leap from Ashley’s acoustic live shows to this point, but it certainly pays off. “Familiar” is a bouncing country romp fit for the Grand Ole Opry stage, with the singer playfully reminiscing on a love better left behind, accented by turns of Travis’ pedal steel wail and zippy acoustic leads. “Try Again” fuses lengthy acoustic and piano accompaniment with a robust back half once the band kicks in, bolstering Ashley’s heartsick proclamation — “Give me a line and waste my time / You can be on your way.”
In the stripped-back moments, the purity of Ashley’s voice pierces through the mix. Calling out atop a smoky, swirling landscape of light guitar and keys, she meditates on the ebb and flow of parenthood on the hauntingly poignant “Song for Them.”
“Headstone” is the album’s lyrical high watermark, as Ashley spends six minutes spinning a calm, yet raw tale of a jilted lover’s sadness, comparing it to mourning the dead. It, along with the rest of this impressive first outing, solidifies her as a can’t miss talent in the Columbia music scene.
What: Ashley Wright and the Vance Gap Ramblers
Where: The White Mule, 711 Saluda Ave.
When: Friday, Oct. 11, 7 p.m.
With: The Dirty Gone Dolas
Price: $12 ($10 in advance)
More: 803-708-5908, whitemulemusic.com