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What is in a name? Does it matter? In most cases, an artist’s stage name is only meant to be amusing and is just an extension of their musical style. The more simple and shorter the name, the better, or so it seems in today’s pop culture-obsessed society. But for Ashley Webber, choosing the moniker Ashley Shadow surely has an underlying meaning.
Could the alias be representative of her under-the-radar work within Vancouver’s and the Pacific Northwest’s music scenes, such as supporting bands like Pink Mountaintops and The Cave Singers? Could it reflect how she feels within her own family, as her twin sister Amber has established a name for herself as one of the co-singers and songwriters of Black Mountain, Lightning Dust, and Kodiak Deathbeds while contributing to Pink Mountaintops? Or is Ashley Shadow a way to describe her music?
Like a shadow, Ashley Shadow’s self-titled debut is dark and emotive yet immensely beautiful. Like a shadow, each song sticks with you long after the final lyric has been sung and the last note played. The shadow of each song, however, changes its form to reflect its varying brilliance, like how a shadow may dance in the light of a full moon or seem to stand still in the radiance of a summertime sun. Ashley Shadow has that transfixing quality, one that recalls the gorgeous intimacy of the Laurel Canyon-era, Mazzy Starr’s serene and spatial soundscapes, and Joni Mitchell’s gift of introspective storytelling.
The one track that reflects all the possible meanings of Ashley Shadow and all of her songwriting traits is “Blurred Views”. A song about enduring through the mistakes and missed opportunities of life, Webber opens the tune with a slow, reverb-entrenched melody and sings three memorable lines, “Blurred views, squint your yes. Walk back through the sunlight. Memories switch their channels, meant to save your life.” This crushing tale echoes the powerful songwriting of Sharon Van Etten.
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The power of the human spirit resonates across the entire album. Sacrifice is the main theme on the album’s opener, “All For You”, a stunning ballad that soars with the piercing keys, a delicate acoustic guitar, and Webber’s serene yet enthralling voice. Resilience and perseverance are championed on the moving “Tonight” and the brilliant and breathtaking “Tired”, which recall a person surviving and overcoming unhealthy situations or relationships. “Another Day” similarly is a song about defiance. With a Joan Baez grace and a Pat Benatar assertiveness, this rousing, dream-folk number sees Webber emphatically state, “I’m not afraid to have an opinion. I’m not afraid, I’ve known it far too long.”
Whereas Webber is expressive on “Another Day”, she takes a much more subdued approached on the album’s final two songs, “In Shadows” and “Sun”. These companion songs are introspective and contemplative. The approach Webber has taken appears to be telling a single story through the lens of two people – the former about a grieving offender who eternally lives with regret. The latter is the victim finding solace but still wary of what lies ahead, which is depicted by the repeating chorus of “Don’t get too close to the sun”.
Despite the warning stated on the album’s final track, you cannot help but want to get closer to the people and stories told on Ashley Shadow. This wonderful album is highlighted by the immediacy and urgency in Webber’s voice and quiet catharsis that reverberates across each song. As a result, Ashley Webber will no longer be able to hide in the shadows, but instead this emerging star will be casting them, enveloping music fans with her poignant storytelling and intimate songs.
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