The voice of reason

Second Skin (204 Records)

Ashley Cleveland

By Dale McHenry

Ashley Cleveland is back and with her new album, Second Skin, she raises the bar for singers and songwriters alike. Possessing one of the most powerful and soulful voices on the planet, Ashley is a master of her instrument. She knows when a gentle touch is called for and she can send chills down your back. Equally stunning, however, are her songwriting skills. Her lyrics find a way of encouraging and inspiring without stooping to patronization. She wrote or co-wrote 10 of the 13 songs on this disc. Her choices in cover material prove exceptional as well with songs written by John Hiatt, Neil Young and Tom Waits.

The album opens with a mid-tempo rocker, "Could Be Talkin'," that relies on Ashley's voice to build intensity. "Power of Love" kicks off with a crunchy guitar lick courtesy of Ashley's husband/producer/co-writer/guitarist extraordinaire Kenny Greenberg. Normally, an attempt at turning a mainstream hit into a gospel song leaves a bad taste. This is especially true of attempts that change the subject matter from Elvis to Jesus, but Cleveland somehow pulls it off with her reworking of John Hiatt's "Riding With The King." "Broken Places," an anthem of liberty from our self-centered and self-destructive natures, may be the best song on the album. "Chained to the past/Chained to the fear/Chains on the floor, broken for years/Freedom is calling me and my heart races/I feel it in the broken places." "Don't Let Me Fall" begins with a bluesy acoustic guitar riff and builds into a full-scale rocker. "Life Is A War" is another true gem in an album without any throwaway songs.

It's hard to believe that Ashley Cleveland is without a major label contract, having won a Grammy for her last album, You Are There, but this disc was released on her own 214 imprint. Currently, the only place that I know where this disc can be ordered is www.ashleycleveland.com. However, if you're an audiophile in search of the holy wail, this disc is worth a little extra effort to obtain.