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Ashleigh Smith claims. “It’s very R&B and funk infused. That’s a part of my upbringing and I love that about my singing.” The 27-year-old Dallas-based singer and songwriter was reflecting on what set her apart from other singers at the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition of which she won. “I noticed it more when I was competing against other people. You are what you listen to.”

Raised in a nurturing, musically enriched household with her two sisters in LaGrange, Georgia, Smith seemed destined to become a musician. Her mother, Deborah Smith sang constantly even though she’s physical therapist by trade, while her father, Edwin Smith, is a pianist and former school band director. Smith also had a grandfather who played jazz saxophone; a grandmother who played classical piano and sang; and an uncle who played jazz trumpet. At the tender age of four, Smith began singing along records that her father played. “I would just imitate everything. When I heard Ella Fitzgerald’s ‘How High the Moon,’ that was it for me,” Smith fondly recalls.

Smith was already recording an EP before she won the 2014 Sarah Vaughan International Vocal Competition. She says the process of finding her voice and material was organic. “When it came to writing, my voice is what just came out,” Smith remembers. “I was very picky in choosing the musicians to help bring that out. I’m very big on authenticity. Everything was very organic – even up to the week of recording. That’s exactly what I wanted.”

In choosing which covers to include on Sunkissed, she was mindful of exploring fresher terrain. That explains her winning renditions of Hall & Oats’ 1975 classic, “Sara Smile” and Chrisette Michele’s 2007 soul ballad, “Love Is You.” Other none originals include a R&B-inflected makeover of the Beatles’ 1968 gem, “Blackbird,” and mesmerizing a capella version of “Pure Imagination,” which features Smith harmonizing with herself via various overdubs.

In Ashleigh’s latest release her covers are juxtaposed with enticing originals, many of which Smith co-wrote with bassist Nigel Rivers or guitarist Joel Cross. As a songwriter, Smith explores themes of romantic heartache (“Best Friends,” “Into the Blue,” and “Brokenhearted Girl”), self-empowerment (“Sunkissed”), and universal love (“The World Is Calling”).

Yu won’t want to miss this ine!