Ashton Shepherd knows people wonder about her voice. She says she totally gets it.
"I have had some people – and I understand where they're coming from – who say 'Do you really sound like that. Are you trying to sound that country?' I really do sound like this. I'm from South Alabama, and if anyone goes down there, you'll discover most everybody down there sounds like that. I get tickled when I tell people 'It can get worse. There are people who talk more southern than me," she told Billboard with a laugh.
Her traditional style has brought her hit records with material like "Takin' Off This Pain," and "Look It Up," and she has just released a brand new single, the timely "This Is America." With a title like that, you might think it was timed to be released around the July 4 holiday last week, but she says it was merely a coincidence.
"We didn't plan for it to be released this time of the year, it just happened," she said. "Of course, that turned out to be wonderful. We cut the song several months ago, and we finished the record in May. I wanted it to be the title track of the record, and also the first single. It just so happened that it came out around the 4th of July, so we're excited about it."
She said she was inspired to pen the song while thinking about some of the differences that Americans have between them, but how they will always unite when times call for it.
"I wrote the song about a year ago. I wrote it by myself. I was upset by some of the stuff you see on Facebook, and folks arguing, and all the turmoil. At the end of the day, we all stick together as a country, and we all have soldiers to be thankful for. It was my way of saying how I feel as an American. I'm proud to be an American. I'm thankful for our soldiers."
Shepherd also is mindful of the financial struggles that many face. She feels them too.
"I've also been there with people who are in the dollar store who are trying to penny pinch. You find yourself questioning each purchase when Americans work so hard to not have to feel worried about things like that. I think as a whole, we all are going through the same thing together. But, no matter what, we're from America, and we love it here. We're proud. I wanted people to be happy, and know that through God, everything is going to turn around. That's what I wanted to do with this song."
"This Is America" is the first single from her upcoming album for her own Pickin' Shed label, and she said she hasn't changed her style one bit.
"It's a country record, and I'm proud of that. I think it's great for people to cut all kinds of different music, but I would love for there to be some more traditional music on the radio. I think people are hungry for it. The younger generation – unless their parents have played it for them – might not have heard it before, so it's new to them. It gives me a chance to make it new again, if that makes sense." The disc contains a duet with veteran performer Daryle Singletary.
Another project close to Shepherd's heart is her new TV series "Cookin' Country." She says it gives her a chance to show off one of her other loves.
"I have always liked to cook, and had entertained the idea of maybe one day putting out a cookbook. You get so involved in your career with radio, and all the extra dreams get pushed over because it's just not time yet. I was fortunate enough that EWave TV. It has different channels, and I will be on the Foodies Network. The executive producer had seen me cook with Hazel Smith on CMT, and on "Kimberly's Simply Southern with Kimberly Schlapman", and they asked if I would be interested. I said 'Yes, I would love it.' It's a free network, and anyone can watch it. I'm excited about it. I cooked tomato gravy and biscuits on the first episode. It's very comfortable. We filmed it in my mother-in-law's kitchen. I hope people will enjoy it."