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Celebrating a Lost Classic Album: Ashley Cleveland’s Big Town

The 30th anniversary of one of the most criminally underrated recordings of all time came and went this week without fanfare.

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.