On February 12, 1991, Atlantic Records released Ashley Cleveland’s Big Town. Cleveland had spent years making a name for herself as a session singer, working with artists as diverse as John Hiatt and Margaret Becker. She even landed a song on the soundtrack of that cinematic masterpiece Ernest Goes to Camp, but Big Town was supposed to be her big break.

Big Town is brilliant heartland rock with some country and gospel flavors thrown in. If you listen to it today, it’s mostly timeless, although a couple of synth lines give its date away. But you get an idea of what sets Big Town apart from the first measures – an acapella taste of Andraé Crouch’s “Soon and Very Soon.” Cleveland’s voice, equal parts raspy rock and smooth soul, let you know what you’re in for. And it’s an exhilarating ride.

Cleveland bases most of her songs on her experiences, and she doesn’t shrink back from the good, the bad, and the ugly of her life: drugs and alcohol, failed relationships, single motherhood. But Big Town is far from doom and gloom, and Cleveland grounds her lyrics in gentle wit and the hope of her Christian faith.

She also runs the gamut of her sound from blistering rock to powerful quiet moments. The title cut is basically her admission that she needs a relationship with God to survive. “I Could Learn to Love You” is a realization that she’s ready to settle down and find forever love – she would go on to marry her bandmate Kenny Greenberg later in 1991 – and the song makes perfect use of its dynamics. “We Can Dance” and “I’ll Call You” look at modern relationships with cleverness and humor, while “Up from the Ether” is a wake up call to live life to its fullest.

Even when Cleveland gets quiet, she conveys powerful truth. “Tentative Man” celebrates those quiet guys who aren’t assertive, while “Rebecca” tenderly celebrates the birth of her daughter and the life changes that motherhood brings.

Some albums fall between the cracks no matter how good they are, and Big Town was one of those. In 1991, synth-driven pop still dominated the airwaves, even though changes were in the air. Grunge would break through later that year with Nirvana leading the charge, and Garth Brooks continued to make his presence heard. Cleveland’s fellow Nashvillian Amy Grant would have her big pop music breakthrough that spring as well.

Sadly, Big Town failed to find a large audience. Even though she gained a cult following for the album – I was one of them – Atlantic dropped Cleveland from their roster. She would go on to find success in the Christian marketplace, where she became the only woman to win a Grammy in the now-defunct Christian Rock category, winning three times.

Ashley Cleveland continues to make music these days, on her own and with others. She writes articles and has published her autobiography. It’s just a shame that, 30 years after Big Town’s release, we’re not hearing tributes to it. The music industry is littered with stories of songs and albums that should’ve taken the world by storm, and Big Townis one of those.

Cleveland has made Big Town a free download on her website, so you can catch it in all its glory today. It’s definitely not too late to celebrate a lost classic. Check it out!