by Frank Ippolito
Ashley Norton has come a long way since gracing the stages of Phoenix and the surrounding Valley. Her decision to relocate to Nashville has been not only career changing, but life changing as well. Her new project, a duo effort with Edward A. Williams, is a testament to that.
Norton, along with Williams, have created a very intimate, emotionally charged and gutty EP, Stardust. I hadn’t heard Norton perform in person for almost three years and I held zero expectations. After all, three years is a very long time, and performers, music, and life, changes.
For the good, in this case.
The opening track on this 6-song EP, “Tumbleweeds”, opens with a delicate cello melody and falls away only to be caught by Norton’s voice that, by the sound of it, has matured and been influenced by Nashville. I was taken by the interplay of both Norton’s and William’s vocals on this duet. Perfectly suited for each other, yet interestingly enough, juxtaposed just enough to create a tension that is haunting.
“Haunted By Me” is another terrific track that, well damn it if it doesn’t give me chills. Like, the Swell Season chills. The soft military drums, the delicate piano and the harmonies are fantastic. The writing, again Nashville influenced, is wonderful.
“Blinded By Paradise” and “Frequency” are sweet and gentle ballads. The former is sung by Williams, who holds his own against the songbird that is Norton, not an easy task by any stretch of the imagination, and on the latter, Norton sums up all of the melancholy in her being to make this track.
“Cold Dead Body” is straight-up country swing, including a terrific accordion bit supplied by Joe Bidewell. If I knew how to two-step, I would.
“Dream of Sleeping”, in my mind, is the perfect track to complete this EP. It’s moody, dreamy and has urgency, thanks to the pining guitar and a very good performance by Williams – then, for the overture, Norton takes the lead and takes this track to another level. The ending is hypnotic to say the least.
Over all, I truly loved this effort. Of course, I have my favorites, and an opinion. For my money, it’s “Haunted By Me” and “Blinded”. Give me “Tumbleweeds” and “Frequency” every day of the week. Those are special tracks and I really really really really hope these two performers keep going down that path, because I’d follow them. I would.
You can stream and purchase Stardust by Whitherward here. And you can catch the band live on August 8th at Kazimierz in Scottsdale!