Music for Music: Naomi Ashley, Love Bug


Naomi Ashley: Love Bug

By Dan Ursini ©2024

The lyrics of country/roots music artist Naomi Ashley are poetic, instantly memorable—and they express wisdom of many different kinds. Ashley sings them in a voice that is pure lyrical honey. She is an excellent songwriter, breezing easily among traditional music styles. And she attracts highly capable musicians who share with her a soulful and highly skilled approach to playing. Ashley releases new albums just every so often, but they are always a highlight of whichever year they are released. That is the case with her newest effort, Love Bug.

Dry wit is a signature element of Ashley’s writing—usually expressed in understatements or asides. On Love Bug, a playful sense of humor is at the center of some of the songs, none more so than the album’s title track. It wryly begins with a mid-century burlesque drum intro. The lyrics are in the comic voice of the love bug, who self-identifies:

I’m a love bug baby, let me bug you with my love
My heart it weighs a metric ton
I’m melting like asphalt in the blazing sun
I get so hot I cannot yield
Til I’m crashing into your windshield

The love bug, of course, is oblivious to the nil romantic promise of wrecking-ball results, and reveals itself as a pure feckless impulse. This is all very funny.

This song also introduces Ashley’s listeners to the intuitive verve and tight playing of her new band, created during COVID. It includes Jon Williams on guitar and keyboards; as well, he shares with Ashley a co-producer credit. Josh Piet plays bass; Jason Batchko plays drums. Ashley explains, “When I brought the song to the band, they bended it into burlesque territory. They are terrific musicians that can find an essence of a song and lean into it. They took it from a funny song to a funny and sexy song with a unique feel and groove.”

Another comic number is “I Wanna Know Everything,” a high-spirited expression of the amusing fascination the speaker has with a food/love/recipe/sex linkage. Ashley remarks, “This song was a blast to write.”

The other songs largely probe serious matters of the heart. “Other Side” has a cheering, surging energy; there is a sober, eloquent wisdom in the lyrics, especially this stanza:

I’d sell my soul to pay your debt
I’d forgive and I’d forget
But when that bill comes due
It’s only payable by you

Ashely reveals, “I wrote the lyrics of this song for someone very dear to me struggling with depression.”

“Sometime” has been part of Ashley’s repertoire for years; the version on Love Bug has an arrangement and production that achieve a lustrous beauty. Much detailed attention is paid to the guitar, the organ, and the inspired pedal steel playing. Ashley comments, “The pedal steel is by the great Brian Wilkie (Hoyle Brothers, Ernie Hendrickson and countless others) and that is Jon Williams on the Hammond B3 Organ. I love the way Brian’s pedal steel swirls around the vocals and Jon’s organ almost sneaks in, like a long-forgotten memory.” Ashley’s singing beautifully conveys the fragile solitary nature of a soul damaged by the threat of an essential human connection going dead.

“Bits and Pieces” is an absolutely brilliant song, with a spare, nuanced melody.

The lyrics detail the agitated tailspin of a bad marriage:

Soft blue wedding dress
Cleaning up the mess
Brand new shoes
Shy I do’s
Disappointed smiles
I remember bits and pieces

Red cigarette sparks
Sirens in the dark
Olive drapes
Great escapes
Stickers on the wall
I remember bits and pieces

Sitting in his chair
Dishes everywhere
Milk is gone
TV on
Time to go to bed
I remember bits and pieces

Ashley knows well the fluid elements involved in creating the best take of a song. A superb example is “Here’s to Us.” This is a fragile gem whose delicate melody is imbued with a brave exquisite tenderness.

She explains that the version on the album is “a demo that I recorded in my apartment on an early spring morning. I leave birdseed out on the windowsill for the sparrows, and they sang along to the recording. We started recording the studio version but it became clear that we couldn’t really improve upon the simple charm of the demo.” Such inspired judgments recur throughout this album, ensuring the brilliance of each track.


Dan Ursini and his wife Valerie live in Oak Park, Illinois. Over the years he has done many kinds of writing. Ursini served as the first resident playwright for the Steppenwolf Theatre of Chicago (1978-1983). His play, Sandbar Flatland, directed by John Malkovich, was produced in 1978 during the dawn of the legendary Off-Loop Theater scene in Chicago. In 1990 Chicago Magazine selected it as one of the ten best shows of the preceding 25 years. Beyond this, Ursini worked for ten years as a Contributing Editor for Puerto Del Sol magazine; he wrote performance art pieces presented at such Chicago venues as Club Lower Links and Club Dreamerz. Ursini wrote radio theatre presented on NPR in the early 1990s. Throughout all this, he has worked full-time at the Law Library at DePaul University where for a decade he also wrote articles for Dialogue, the DePaul law school’s alumni publication. In addition, he was active for some years as a bass guitarist in various Chicago blues/gospel/funk/lounge configurations. Currently Ursini is working on his latest novel. A play he wrote with Robert Rothman, A Mensch Among Men, a fictionalized account of real-life Jewish Chicago-area gangsters, has had two staged readings in Chicago. Dan can be reached at:

Love Bug at Bandcamp

Love Bug at Apple Music

Naomi Ashley on WBEZ


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