Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

Kassi Ashton – California, Missouri

It’s road trip day! First we stop in California…


Eleanor Graham: This is how small towns get you. You leave nothing but an empty room, like you dreamed at thirteen. The name becomes punctuation in early conversation. To your best friends in the world, it means absolutely nothing. Going home for Christmas doesn’t feel like going home any more. And then you’re twenty-three and releasing your first single, someone else entirely, but unable to resist tying yourself to it forever, tying it to you like a lover: “Anywhere I go don’t feel like you, is that good or bad?” The town was unchosen, a part of it will always be unknowable. A part of you will spend your whole life trying to come to terms with it, and maybe that lonely pursuit is the same as love, maybe running away is the same as running towards. It seems unlikely. But it’s not not love. It’s bittersweet.

Alex Clifton: The story of “California, Missouri” is nothing new, but there’s a little less romanticism of the small-town life that you’re apt to find in country music. It’s downbeat, and that creeping guitar line in the chorus threatens to eat the whole song like a storm cloud. I view this as a grungier version of Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round,” but more on-the-nose than Musgraves’ take; Kassi Ashton walks a fine line between sounding mournful and bored. I really wish that I liked this more, but Ashton’s just one more girl running away from the middle of nowhere, and I’m not sure why I should care about her take over anyone else’s.

Will Adams: The small town blues would be ordinary if Kassi Ashton weren’t looking over her shoulder so much. The song is wracked with conflict, sputtering with syllables one line (“If I got past that one stop light…”) and ambling along with the music the next. The core of the song is the “bittersweet” repetition, but the kicker is the admission of her hometown having both too many ghosts and too many memories. The hometown haunts you, not to curse you, but to remind you of what you left behind.

Stephen Eisermann: Kassi is not like the other country girls. She’s said so in plenty of interviews, and the music here speaks on her behalf. The track is gritty, gloomy, and jam-packed with lyrics (sometimes to the melody’s detriment) about how much Kassi didn’t fit in, and she sells them tremendously well. The huskiness in her voice complements the sullen track, and the electric guitar after the second verse is practically begging you to wave a lighter in the air.

Katherine St Asaph: The intermediate step between Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go Round” and EMA’s “California,” perhaps. It’s hard being in a country town when you learned vocals from Adele and phrasing from the last chorus of “You and I.” (Turns out those actually are her influences!) Well, perhaps not–rural radio plays Alessia Cara types, and Ashton did the pageant circuit like her country-music peers. But it probably is hard being in the country industry when you like arrangements more interesting than the standard Southern rock canon. (Nashville veterans Luke Laird and Shane McAnally helped write this, which makes one wonder once again why they still bother with hackwork when they’ve got this in them.) The lyrics have the same juvenilia issue as “Merry Go Round”–making a remark about “sheep” in line one is, let’s say, a strong move–and with this many references to California (the actual one), ideally there’d be some California sound somewhere in the mix. But these are quibbles about a remarkably strong debut.

Alfred Soto: I’ll take California, Missouri over Ebbing, Missouri, and I hope Kassi Ashton does too. This reverb-heavy hunk of hometown blues could be faster and less satisfied with itself — Ashton stresses the clever inversions as if she were doing a PowerPoint discussion. But she teases the rue out of the line “I don’t know if I’m wrong in a way.”

Edward Okulicz: Ashton sounds like she’s not sure whether she’s grunge, indie rock or country, in that her voice here doesn’t sound like a snug fit for any of them. It makes “California, Missouri” really stand out, particularly when the chorus comes in, which is the most country-ish part, and the most fitting for the lyrics. I’m less convinced by the rapid flow of words in parts, as if the structures and rhythms she’s writing can’t contain her thoughts, but talent works that out eventually.

Reader average: [5] (1 vote)

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One Response to “Kassi Ashton – California, Missouri”

  1. Thanks to TSJ for reviewing my suggested song! I heard this on the new country station on SiriusXM and it immediately stuck out. As a first single, it’s impressive. I want to hear more from Kassi. I’d give it an [8] for the record.