Headed for this moment since her Top 10 placement on Season 13 of NBC’s The Voice in 2017, beloved country songsmith Ashland Craft announces her major-label debut project, Travelin’ Kind—due September 3 via Big Loud Records. The Piedmont, South Carolina native, stepped off the national stage after the show and spent months grinding at a local bar, Wendell’s Dippin’ Branch. Here, she continued earning the chops that gave her the edge she needed in Nashville when she finally made the full-time jump in 2019.
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For the past two years, Craft laid the foundation of who she is, artistically and personally, within country music. Arriving in Music City just a few months before COVID-19 struck, the industry standstill did not deter the 25-year-old artist. Though faced with a seemingly insurmountable roadblock, she somehow managed to sign a deal with Big Loud amidst a global pandemic and continued to write songs until she finally felt she had a body of work that truly represented her.
Her songbook was spilling over when it came time to cut a few tracks for an introductory LP. Sifting through the stack, the songwriter sought stories that met her in her current moment and allowed her listeners to find a home within the lyrics.
Travelin’ Kind is a product of an antsy artist with a supportive team of collaborators and advocates who accompanied her to this arrival point. Produced by dear friend, the multi-talented Jonathan Singleton, the album captures the wandering spirit of an unfaltering storyteller and vocal talent. Craft’s surefooted styling and brazen vocals contributions breathe new life into age-old country music traditions.
“I could list songs off on two hands that I loved on the radio growing up, that come to find out, Jonathan wrote,” Craft tells American Songwriter over the phone.
“I am still very much learning this craft, but I also feel I’ve settled into who I am and what I want to say. And having these amazing mentors around me who guide and encourage and pull stuff out of me is so important. And I’m so thankful they have helped mold and teach me through this process while allowing me to stay true to myself.”
Some tracks date back to early 2019, when Craft first got to town. She says, “I think it was important for me to start the story from the beginning, until now. And so it was only appropriate to name it Travelin’ Kind. In my head, that was an ideal title because that’s me right now. It’s what I’m doing and what I will be [doing] for a while.”
The title envelops the movement of a touring artist, steadily gaining her footing most nights of the week, almost every week of the year. Across 11-tracks, Craft traces the road-worn miles between her South Carolina home and her current residence in Music City. She co-wrote nine songs on the album with a close cast of collaborators.
“It’s funny because these days, I feel like people want to say that they wrote all of their songs,” says Craft. “For me, it’s never about me writing the songs or having my name on them. I genuinely want to release songs that connect with people.”
“Your Mama Still Does” is one of those universal heartbreak anthems Craft wishes she had written. Masterfully penned by her friends Jenna LaMaster and Singleton, the lyrics spoke to the artist and the still-existing bonds she shares with some of her exes’ mothers. She says, “It’s a different relationship than what you have with your ex, and I feel like a lot of men and women experience that, and the angle hasn’t been touched on.”
A second outside cut, “Day By Day,” brings Craft’s experience full circle. Penned by two fellow-The Voice alums, Tori Allen and Corey Grogan, the song felt timely in taking life as it comes and “facing what’s in front of you.” She first heard Allen sing the song out one night and immediately connected with the storyline. Because Allen, too, was an artist, Craft kept her mouth closed about cutting the song until Allen didn’t include it on her project.
“I finally said, ‘if you’re not going to cut this one, I would be honored,’ because that’s been my life since I got here. I’ve been focused on just getting through the data, whatever it takes,” she says. “It was a vulnerable song that I really wanted to get my hands on.”
Another evolution point from the album is “Letcha Fly.” Craft wrote that one with Lee Star and another friend, Willie Morrison—who she met while he was her Uber driver during her very first trip to Nashville for her first co-write ever.
“Leavin’ You Again” strikes a deeply personal chord for Craft, as well as her best friends and co-writers—LaMaster and Faren Rachels. Tinged with a traditional country sound, reminiscent of her early influences like Bonnie Raitt and The Chicks, the gut-wrenching track traces the devastation of an impenetrable cycle of heartbreak.
“Even talking about it now, I want to bawl my eyes out. It’s just a magical thing,” says Craft. “We didn’t even finish the song on the first day, but also we sat in the room, and we didn’t even leave for the first couple hours, talking about relationships and life. We had this title, and we started writing it.”
Leaving that day, they knew they had to finish that song, and they did just a few weeks later at a writing retreat. She adds, “We cry every time we sing it. It is the epitome of everything I love about country music, then, now and forever. It’s got country roots. The message is so simple yet empowering because you realize what’s going on in your relationship. When you can reach that point in your life, you’ve taken a step up. And so to write this song and pour our hearts out and feel like we genuinely accomplished what we moved to tone to accomplish is so special to me.”
“Come Down,” written with Rob Snyder and Adam Hood, exploits the more jagged rock-leaning edges she picked up from early Def Leppard and Chris Stapleton’s veteran practice of genre intersection. The lyrics, she says, “are about being who you are and not letting the world persuade you into thinking that everything is so much bigger and better.” Craft continues, “It’s important to stay grounded and remember where you came from. Being in the music industry can be a lot of light and cameras, and it’s not hard to get lost in that.”
Poetic in its delivery, “Come Down” falls center to her goal of lending her experience to others to wield to better their own. In sharing her innermost vulnerabilities, Craft puts forth something universally resonant as an ambassador of country music.
“I’m proud of the fact that it’s organic and a little more old school than the modern country in the way we produced it,” says Craft. “We didn’t use any tracks or extra things. We just let the music speak for itself. And, I feel like it turned out to represent me very well and who I am, and I’m excited for people to get to hear it and connect to it.”
Pre-save Ashland Craft’s debut LP Travelin’ Kind, here. Check out the tracklist for the upcoming album below.
TRAVELIN’ KIND Track List
1. “Travelin’ Kind” (Ashland Craft, Erik Dylan)
2. “Your Momma Still Does” (Jenna LaMaster, Jonathan Singleton)
3. “Leavin’ You Again” (Ashland Craft, Jenna LaMaster, Faren Rachels)
4. “Make It Past Georgia” (Ashland Craft, Reid Isbell, Willie Morrison)
5. “Last 20 Dollars” (Ashland Craft, Wyatt Beasley Durrette, III, Jonathan Singleton)
6. “Highway Like Me (feat. Marcus King)” (Ashland Craft, Jessi Alexander, Reid Isbell)
7. “Mimosas In The Morning” (Ashland Craft, Jessie Jo Dillon, Jonathan Singleton)
8. “Day By Day” (Tori Allen, Corey Grogan)
9. “Letcha Fly” (Ashland Craft, Willie Morrison, Lee Starr)
10. “Come Down” (Ashland Craft, Adam Hood, Rob Snyder)
11. “That’s The Kinda Place” (Ashland Craft, Rodney Clawson, Jonathan Singleton)
Photo Credit: Brayln Kelly