Ashley Riley - Set You Free




If music is a salve for the soul, then credit Ashley Riley with sharing that beautiful life with the rest of us as well. Her music tackles sweeping, timeless, universal themes like fear, love, doubts, desperation and the battle between staying or leaving. Human emotions and their complexities often force one to cope in the best way we know how. For her sixth album, Ashley pours her heart into the songs and takes the listener along for an incredible ride! Her voice, delicate as tissue paper yet full of raw emotion, is the star of her songs. It demands our full attention and makes us want to listen to each song again to catch each and every word. These lyric-rich songs will cast their gentle spells on you, while the dark musical layers will earn your devotion. Most of us can relate well to these songs. She expresses common thoughts better than most of us can and therein, even amidst the sadness in some of the lyrics, we’ll find comfort. But really the entirety of this record will make you feel comfortable when you listen to it. It is optimistic even in its sad moments, hopeful even when it feels a little dark. Ashley Riley is a natural and you’ll find that in her music, as the songs take you down quiet, gravel country roads, beautiful forests of peaceful mountain retreats, and the sometimes lonely nights of motels and truck stops on the road of life. When you listen to an album that evokes Patty Griffin, Gretchen Peters, Kim Richey all rolled into one, you know you’ve picked high cotton.

An engaging and mesmerising combination of songs and tunes, she sets the bar high with the opening Close To You. A jaunty rhythm that captures the uncertainty of how to end a failing relationship, the song is wrought with a sensation that's both resilient and fragile. She is joined by Sarah Bonsignore and Emmery Williams on the hypnotic chorus with Braun Sheets adding underpinned baritone guitar floating away in the background. Bolstered by layered, lilting vocals, Second Guessing manages to be profoundly soothing even as it meditates on impermanence and loss. On Starting Over, her vocals drip with crystal clear frailty with wispy harmonies that imbed themselves into the listener’s very heart and soul. One Way is as delicately crafted as a spiders web, as she makes it seem as if she’s surrounded by others, despite the raw, vulnerable and personal nature of not only the music, but also the song’s lyrics.  

The somewhat sombre tone of Cut My Losses captures the personal clash between where she is and where she’d like to be, without giving a reason—this is just how it is. We all go through these phases of wishing to be anywhere but here as we embrace the fleeting nature of all things, even as we grasp momentary uncertainty in our hands. The luxuriant We All Need Love is a gem of a track with graceful vocals and a smooth musical arrangement; a gliding warmth akin to the feeling of sinking into a hot spring fills the peaceful composition. With Set You Free she is tough love. She is the final gust that pushes the boat over the waves as she tells her man, enough is enough, it’s time to move on.
There is an air of mystery to Ashley Riley, and it wafts through nearly everything she does as an artist. With a curious and probing spirit, she infuses a distinct sense of sadness tempered with wonderment into a stunning album that reflects her equally beautiful soul. She is a treasure … moving and meaningful and more than worthy of your complete attention.


July 2021