Closer (Capitol Records)
Susan Ashton

By Robert Gruber

We won't give Susan Ashton any crap here for going "mainstream" - after all, this darling bud of the contemporary Christian scene has got what you could call a million-dollar voice, and she deserves to be heard by the multitudes. Besides, with everything she must have seen Amy Grant go through before her, It's a very courageous step for Ashton to take, leaving her comfortable position In CCM to step out onto less stable waters.

While I'm a little disappointed that she's sort of going the country route on her Capitol Nashville debut, Closer, there's no arguing that this album has a good sound. Fiddles and steel guitars color the modern acoustic pop arrangements of Emory Gordy, Jr., and the harmonies on Ashton's voice give it that radio sheen.

"I Ain't Gonna Fall For Love Again" is a slow-dance hit, featuring Vince Gill on harmonies and an aching melody by Kim Richey and Vince Melamed. "Breathless" sports a loping, drive-down-a-country-road beat and some different vocal sounds from Ashton. "Supernatural" lays out a bluesy slide and some very convincing Bonnie Raitt-style singing - guitarists Steve Gibson and Steuart Smith really shine on this one. Fans of Susan Ashton's Christian stuff may be a bit put off by the sensual content of the lyrics (written by various songwriters). It's not "dirty" or anything, just very ... uh, romantic. Again, I'm a little disappointed that she didn't include maybe one or two reworked versions of some of her older gospel material, but this is a solid effort nonetheless. Susan Ashton sings country every bit as good as the current crop, and if she gets the right treatment by her new label, she could bypass Shania Twain on the charts.