There is a woman in the room, Ashley Cleveland announces on Queen of Soul, the rousing lead-off track from her latest release, Before the Daylight’s Shot. Though she may be singing about Aretha Franklin, that simple declaration could double as Cleveland’s own motto as an artist. In a music scene overpopulated by breathy girls and melismatic vamps, Cleveland is that rare thing - a woman who sings like a woman. A woman with grit and passion. A woman who’s not afraid to follow her longings into places both light and dark. Yes, she can roar and wail with maximum soul wattage (her voice inspires regular comparisons to locomotives and hurricanes). But she can also be soft, tender, sly, wistful, open-hearted, melancholy, wise, seductive, wry - all those facets that make a vocalist deep and compelling. And whether she’s delivering a regretful ballad like Streams Of Mercy or a mighty rocker like The Blessing, she connects emotionally with a strength and clarity that would make Cingular jealous. It’s that emotional connection - a combo of Cleveland’s natural wonder of a voice and fierce songwriting talent - that has been thrilling listeners since her debut in 1991. Blending rock, blues, gospel and folk with her distinct open-tuned guitar playing, she has forged an unmistakable sound that has won her two Grammy Awards, three Dove Awards, a place on countless year-end Top Ten lists and a legion of devoted fans. Beyond her own career, Cleveland is also one of Nashville’s...
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