CD REVIEW: Ashley Lennon Thomas - Sparkle Plenty
By J.D. Stefan
Ashley Lennon Thomas
Sparkle Plenty is a 2008 CD release from Southern California native singer/songwriter Ashley Lennon Thomas. The 13 tracks on this CD showcase a very talented singer and songwriter who is accomplished at blending her excellent folk and bluesy country sensibilities while keeping one foot planted in Motown. The album was recorded at Johnny’s Room in Los Angeles, CA with additional recording performed at The Lair in Culver City, CA and Chateau Jazz in Encino, CA. There’s quite a lineup of musicians on the CD as well and everything is anchored by Thomas’ vocals and acoustic guitar. Although not specified directly on the CD liner notes, it appears that Thomas’ father John ‘JT’ Thomas handled the production reigns for the recording as well as contributing his instrumental abilities on bass, organ and piano on a few tracks. The website has good information on Thomas as well as current, active performance and gig information. Well done.
The CD opens with “Wait in the Water”, a nice relaxed, folksy track that brings in a hint of gospel choir feel towards the end. The playing is top-notch; everything is well-recorded, clear and consistent. Thomas’ vocals ride nicely on top of some great production. Thomas shines really shines on “Black Coffee” and shows that she is just at ease delivering a slow blues groove as she is at tossing in a bit of country feel on “Highway Song”. Thomas teams with drummer and background singer Lynn Coulter on a well-done cover of “Buick City Complex”. Sparkle Plenty shows a lot of Thomas’ versatility as a writer and singer and she has hooked up with a great group of musicians here who never fail to deliver a solid groove and tasteful performances. John “JT” Thomas handled the engineering role and has captured every instrument very nicely. Every instrument has its own space and the album is well-mixed. The occasional appearances by the horn section bring a nice touch of Motown soul to the album. The song arrangements breathe and stay interesting instrumentally while never getting in the way of Ashley’s vocals. The final track “Bones” starts out with an informal drum intro that seamlessly changes over from sticks to brushes. The laid-back track is a great close to the CD as Thomas expresses that she “can’t get you outta my bones…” Fans will appreciate a hidden 14th track too. The packaging and art for the CD is also well executed. I especially like the vinyl-look 45 treatment on the CD face itself. It’s a nice touch to what is very good looking and sounding CD from Thomas.
Overall, Sparkle Plenty is a great effort by Ashley Lennon Thomas. The only real downside to this release is the crowded and tough market in this genre occupied by the likes of Sheryl Crow and others. Thomas’ delivers a real gem of an album but without a bonafide “hit”. While there are some great songs on Sparkle Plenty, a couple of more mainstream, catchy songs might have given it a little more momentum in the market and left more of a resonance in the listener. The retro vibe on some tracks works well for the album but I could see the overall release benefiting by some more current production sounds as well. That being said, I feel though that Thomas has followed her own voice here and should be very happy and proud of what she has accomplished on this album.
Sparkle Plenty indeed. Ashley Lennon Thomas is a solid songwriter and performer and this is one of the rare CDs that will very likely stay in my collection. I enjoyed the overall vibe of the album and it had just enough variety to it to make it stay interesting all the way through. Keep sparkling Ashley.
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