ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris.


NORRIS: These days, a lot of country music singers are downright citified. They live and work in urban areas. And though they might wear cowboy boots and bandanas, their overall persona is pretty glamorous. Our next guest has clung hard to her country roots.


ASHTON SHEPHERD: (Singing) How about forever, just look it up. It means through thick and thin and pitching in, even when the times get tough...

NORRIS: Ashton Shepherd was born and raised in Alabama - she still calls the state home and she still spends a lot of time working on her farm. She even sells vegetables out of the back of her pickup truck. So, it's no surprise that her CD is called "Where Country Grows." And this song has become somewhat of an anthem for gals who've had their hearts stepped on. The song is called "Look It Up."


SHEPHERD: (Singing) So, goodbye, get lost, get out, get gone, the word is over. Look it up.

NORRIS: Ashton Shepherd joins me now on one of her ventures away from Alabama. She is in Louisville, Kentucky. It's one of the stops on her tour. Welcome to the program.

SHEPHERD: Well, I am proud to be here and I'm so glad to be part of it.

NORRIS: I want to start with that song and the video from the song where you sell off all the belongings of the man who broke your heart. What was the inspiration for this song? Is there some fellow who cringes every time he hears it on the radio?

SHEPHERD: You know, that song, I knew from the time that the record label brought it to me - it was the first outside song I'd ever cut in my career - when I heard it, my first thought was, this sounds like something I would have written. And I definitely think there's, you know, I don't know who it is specifically but I'm sure there's some men folks cringing whenever it comes on the radio.

NORRIS: Well, I was wondering when you sing it if you have to reach into your sort of personal memory bank to make sure that you give this song appropriate feeling.

SHEPHERD: You know, I don't really know how I deliver the messages as well as I do on some songs, because, you know, it is kind of strange to have to sing a song like that, being happily married and me and my husband are doing great and all that stuff. But, you know, you can imagine anything. And you can definitely put yourself in somebody else's position - or I know I can - because I want people to believe it.

NORRIS: Talk to me about your life in Alabama. You grew up in a small town with an interesting name and yet, you've never strayed so far from there.

SHEPHERD: I did. I grew up in Coffeeville, Alabama. My parents, they never moved from the same house. And I guess that's kind of where my root system started. I just always had this deep longing to just be home. You know, I sang my music from a young age, from five years old in church to entering my first competition at eight years old, which was really little when I look back - 'cause my little boy's about to be six and I think, oh my gosh, that'd be like him being in a competition in two years. So, it's an interesting little life. It was real plain and country but I think it definitely laid the foundation for who I am today.

NORRIS: Tell me about the song, "Rory's Radio." You seem to pour a lot of emotion into that song.


SHEPHERD: "Rory's Radio" kind of links back to growing up in Coffeeville, Alabama and being such a rootsy person from the time I was just a little bitty thing. You know, Rory was my brother Jeff's best friend. My brother Jeff lost his life in a car accident in 1999, and I was 13 years old and Rory was still there. And it was really nice to have somebody, you know, that came by to see mom and daddy and that really was plugging such an empty space in our life at that time.


SHEPHERD: (Singing) Rory's radio played (unintelligible), vision in the dark, doing anything we wanted to do. I was 15, but I thought that I was 25. I was dreaming so many dreams, having the time of my life. I could go anywhere I wanted to go. I was listening to Rory's radio...

Even though it never mentions any of that, the sadness or the sad parts of it, it really just mentions remembering what I felt like when Jeff was still here and having an innocence that once reality hits you it's like you can't ever go back to it.


SHEPHERD: (Singing) We would drag race on straightaways on West Bend Road. We'd laugh and joke, living our lives slowly, listening to Rory's radio...

NORRIS: Must be quite something for your folks to listen to this song.

SHEPHERD: Oh man. It's so emotional for them. I mean, Mama, first time I played it for her, I mean, before it was ever cut on a record or anything, she started crying. And, you know, my brother Scott had tears in his eyes and at the same time kind of make him smile. You know, it doesn't drag you down, it actually lifts you up because you're going to a really special place.


SHEPHERD: (Singing) I miss listening to Rory's radio.

NORRIS: Ashton, in some ways, you're living the life that a lot of country music singers sing about, even though they retired to big old spreads where someone else does the gardening and mows the lawn. Are you going to try to hold on to this lifestyle? Is that important to you to live close to your roots so you can continue to sing about it authentically?

SHEPHERD: You know, it really is. And, you know, right now me and my husband are still living on six acres in a single-wide trailer. But I'll get depressed out on the road simply because I'm not being the mama that's cooking supper every night or that's fixing my husband's plate and my baby's plate. And you miss those things and I miss them because it makes me feel good to grow things in a garden and put things up in jars and, you know, open up a can of tomatoes that I put up and cook, you know, tomato gravy and biscuits for my son and my husband in the morning. And I think it's a big part of who I am as an artist. And I think it's what you have to do, what I feel like I have to do to stay able to sing country music that I'm really living instead of just singing about it.

NORRIS: In your estimation, has country music become a little bit too citified?

SHEPHERD: Oh, I mean, it absolutely has. I mean, and I don't say that in a negative form but it's just evolved over time, just like cell phones and computers and everything else. It's just such a fast pace. And me and my husband have those discussions, you know, we'll sit up at night, you know, and just talk to one another about, you know, even just how your television gets in the way of just something simple, like, you know, if you and him actually enjoy watching "The Andy Griffith Show." We'll sit down, just me and him, and we'll make our little boy watch it. My daddy sits down and watches it every evening too. And...

NORRIS: OK. I was wondering about that 'cause you're 24. You're too young to remember Andy Griffith.

SHEPHERD: Well, that kind of goes back to, you know, my daddy and mom are 60 years old and I guess it's about generations and tradition and carrying things on it. And then my little boy getting to see, you know, even the music we play him is older music. He knows new country music but he also listens to Conway and some Loretta songs and he listens to Patsy Cline. And he knows who those people are and he's five years old. So, we try to make sure it's present, you know, keep it alive because it's just really important to me.

NORRIS: Ashton Shepherd, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thank you so much.

SHEPHERD: Thank you.

NORRIS: Ashton Shepherd. Her new album is called "Where Country Grows." And you can listen to songs from the album at


SHEPHERD: (Singing) He had to come back to take these (unintelligible). 'Cause there ain't much of nothing out here, just a bunch of (unintelligible) at pasture. (unintelligible) and a couple old tractors, little bitty church, big old (unintelligible). Ain't no noise, no green light, ain't no buildings messing up...

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