Ashton Shepherd may be just 22 years old, but she doesn't sound like it.
With a hard Alabama accent, she sings country music like she means it. And like she has lived it -- which she has. While others her age may have been heading off to college or working fast food, Shepherd was married by age 19. Before she started recording, she was a stay-at-home wife with her husband, Roland Cunningham, and her now 2-year-old son, James.
Shepherd will perform at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts as part of WYRK's fall acoustic show. She'll be joined onstage by fellow country newcomers Jimmy Wayne and Jamey Johnson (co-writer of the Trace Adkins country dance hit "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and George Strait's "Give it Away").
Shepherd's performance comes on the heels of her debut album, "Sounds So Good." In addition to the title track, she also put the break-up anthem "Take This Pain" onto the country singles charts earlier this year.
>So how much has your life so far affected your songs?
Well, I have been basically doing a whole lot of stuff in my life at 22. I never went to college. But I had been in a band, and we played two or three nights a week. We did that forever. And I kept writing song after song, getting them put up in notebooks.
>So where do you get your songs from?
Well, obviously I'm a wife. I dated my husband before we were married, and we've had our problems. Not real problems, but we've had our fusses. And my songs are about real life. Songs like "Sounds So Good," that's what we do where we live [Leroy, Ala.]. Heading out in a pickup truck with a cooler in the back, looking at the stars, listening to the sound of the creek running.
>When you sing "How Big Are Angel Wings" (a song about a little girl dying), do you see all the parents in the crowd start to tear up?
A lot of times we don't play that live. When we're in shows with Sugarland, we only get 20 minutes. But we get a very strong reaction when we perform it. It's hard for me to sing it sometimes, and it's hard to hear the stories people tell me in the meet-and-greet line. It's a very touching song for a lot of people.
>So what else do you listen to today?
On my iPod? I've got mostly Southern rock and country, from Alabama to Dolly Parton to Lynyrd Skynyrd. And I do have a little AC/DC. ... On today's charts, I'm a huge Jamey Johnson fan. Miranda Lambert. I like giving credit to singer-songwriters. And Taylor Swift, she's just a talented individual. She has that "it" thing. She has songs you walk around singing all day long.
I hope I have that. I just want to keep doing what I'm doing. Hopefully one of these years there's going to be that big spark.
-- Elmer Ploetz, Special to The News