The musical passport of recording artist and songwriter Ashley Davis offers a rich display of colorful stamps from Ireland and Scotland, but also heavily draws from the influences of her birthplace, the Kansas plains, and the country music traditions borne of the Appalachian Mountains. An internationally recognized recording artist and songwriter, Ashley has collaborated with such musical luminaries as the Chieftains' Paddy Moloney, fiddle player Eileen Ivers, harpist Cormac De Barra, singer-songwriters John Doyle and John Spillane, and the "First Lady of Celtic Music," Moya Brennan. Throughout her career, she has, to quote NBC's "Today Show" co-host Meredith Vieira, thrilled audiences with "new music springing from ancient roots." But in a greater sense, she has become a pioneer, navigating new frontiers and sharing her genre-defying musical vision with an ever-increasing fanbase.
That pioneer spirit is on full display throughout her fourth album, "Night Travels," a dreamlogue of heart-piercing melodies and soul-searing lyrics that weaves its sounds and images so seamlessly, that the traditional and contemporary co-exist effortlessly. With "Night Travels," Ashley has journeyed full circle, returning to the many influences of her youth, and in the process, creating an unforgettable collection that, like our dreams, is full of heart-quickening shadow and exuberant light. The result is a sparkling collection of songs and stories, set against a sensuous instrumental backdrop that will resonate with lovers of Celtic, folk, bluegrass and Americana music.
Recorded in studios in Dublin, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Nashville and Kansas, "Night Travels" reflects the musicality and the culture of each of those places. The album opens with the whimsical "His Bride I'll Be," on which she shares vocals with Sara Watkins, renowned for her work with Grammy-winning trio Nickel Creek as well as her own critically-acclaimed solo albums. To craft the song, Ashley relied on a number of musical influences, but also put her considerable writing abilities to the test, eliminating an entire set of traditional lyrics, keeping a familiar melody and in the process creating something fresh and wholly invigorating.
This song sets the tone of the entire collection, songs of both "waking dreams and nighttime dreams, where we seek out one another on our journeys," as she explains in the album's liner notes. As a distinct counterpoint to the opening track, the traditional folk tale, "Barbara Allen," with Irish guitar great, John Doyle, is given an arrangement that punctuates the bitter sadness of a love unrequited. Yet, with the album's briskly delivered, and significantly more hopeful, title track following it, order and color are fully restored. Such is the mesmerizing journey the listener is taken on throughout "Night Travels." Other highlights on the album include the sumptuous "In the Blue" and "Alone with Me" (a song she categorizes as perhaps "too country to be Celtic and too Celtic to be country"), which perfectly spotlights Ashley's extraordinarily rich, expressive vocal ability. Even in collaboration with one of the most recognizable voices in Celtic music, Ashley approaches the task with a fearlessness others might find difficult to muster. "Beside You Near" was written specifically to feature Moya Brennan's vocals. "She's the queen of contemporary Celtic music, so I dearly wanted something that was going to show off just how incredible Moya's voice is," says Ashley, adding that Moya's role as a mentor has offered her an amazing education, as she learned about building the "spectacular" vocal walls that are a family trait for the Brennans, especially for Moya and her younger sister, Enya.
Born in Lawrence, Kansas, Ashley began performing live throughout the Midwest region at the age of 14. Four years later, she began her undergraduate study at Nashville's Belmont University, taking advantage of Belmont's renowned music program and studying literature from the Irish, British and Latin traditions, while also performing solo at many of Nashville's pubs and venues, including the legendary Bluebird Café. Pursuing a graduate degree from the Irish World Academy of Music & Dance (then known as the "World Music Centre") at the University of Limerick, Ashley then earned her Master's degree under the direction of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin. In 2006, she journeyed to the Isle of Man, where she was an Artist in Residence, capturing and recording the native Manx language, as well as the melodies and stories of the island. Another of the singer-songwriter's unique musical adventures was a stint in Las Vegas, where she was chosen as the soloist for the Vegas premiere of Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance." Ashley spent one year with the show. In 2010, she was named one of the most influential Irish-Americans under the age of 40.
There is no greater testament to her formidable talent, perhaps, than the invitation Ashley received from the head of the Grammy Museum to teach world music songwriting for the Grammy camps around the country. The program chooses the most talented high school students to whom she teaches the unconventional but most traditional technique of songwriting. "I want young writers to be able to open up and write from a true place because that's where the good music is going to come from," she explains. "Not to try and conform; and to see themselves. I really believe in reading, and having a heavy, steady diet of reading. That's one of the things that I say, that as many of those words that you're putting on a page each day, you need to replenish in your head so that you have a constant well of fresh water to draw from."
And although she continues to be an advocate for the educational pursuits of others, "Night Travels" has itself been a genuine learning experience for the singer herself. "On my other albums I would have been more cerebral, more academic," she offers. "This one I really let go and allowed myself to understand that sometimes simplicity is elegance."