Album Review: Ashley McBryde – Girl Going Nowhere

Amy Album Review, Headlines, News

Back in May 2017, Rolling Stone Country named Ashley McBryde as one of their 10 Country Acts you need to know, describing her as “An Arkansas red-clay badass, with the swagger of Hank Jnr and the signwriting of Miranda Lambert”. By September, Warner Music Nashville had signed her and just a few weeks ago McBryde performed for the first time outside of the United States to standing ovations at the C2C Festival. Widely reported as the standout breakthrough performer at the festival, it’s with eager anticipation that we welcome the release of Girl Going Nowhere, her debut major label album.

Yet another of Music Row’s 10-year over-night successes, McBryde has served her time and honed her craft in dive bars, biker joints and truck stops and one senses that breakthrough single “Dive Bar in Dahlonega” is well timed. Mainstream Nashville is tiring of the EDM and auto-tuned influences that have saturated the airwaves in recent years. The success of bands like Midland, Jon Pardi and Luke Combs attest to an alternative, cleaner, more traditional sound and McBryde’s country rock strikes a refreshing chord. It’s an exciting route for a female artist and you can see where the Miranda Lambert comparisons stem.

Nashville producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Brothers Osborne), allows McBryde to maintain the appealingly raw edges that are apparent on her previous (indie released) work, carefully drawing out the heartfelt message of her lyrics (she wrote all 11 tracks) and the abilities of her band with his trademark slick production. McBryde described Joyce as a “mad scientist in the best way… He takes songs that we’ve been playing for a long time and they take on a new life and a new shape with him”.

Opening with the title track, it’s a hopeful, quiet, autobiographical victory to the underdog;

“But when the lights come up
And I hear the band
And where they said I’d never be is exactly where I am
I hear the crowd
I look around
And I can’t find an empty chair
Not bad for a girl goin’ nowhere”

With her band muted, the song builds but doesn’t need to soar – the power of her vocals and lyrics do the work and the result has become an anthem for fans.

Unapologetically blue-collar, it’s easy to make comparisons with McBryde’s super-star cheerleader Eric Church (Church invited her to perform at one of his arena shows last year), but look back a decade or two and you’ll hear equally exciting influences via Gretchen Wilson, Lucinda Williams and the Dixie Chicks. Picking up the pace, “Radioland”, socks a nostalgic punch of twang and country pop that’s as fresh as it was when Gretchen and the ‘Chicks’ were all over the airwaves back in the 90’s, while heart-wrenching “American Scandal” dives into Pat Benatar’s power ballad territory as Joyce commands full production, but where many would be over powered, McBryde’s vocals captivate amidst her band at full throttle.

As with her previous work, Girl Going Nowhere is a project that places simple, honest song writing at the forefront, and every one of the thirty-seven minutes is carefully arranged to showcase the story and capture the gritty late-night vibe of a live performance. As a result, honky tonk deep cuts like the outstanding Lucinda Williams-esque “Tired of Being Happy” (track no. 10) are placed as if on a live set-list, rewarding those who stay to the end.

Relatable authenticity is at the heart of “The Jacket”, a song about her family heirloom (her father’s) denim jacket that’s seen “Willie Nelson play in 4 or 5 states” “…My heart on the sleeve, my life in these patches, then he wrapped his arms around me, in that old jean jacket…” Shifting tack but staying close to the three chords and the truth mantra, “Livin’ Next Door to LeRoy” delivers the reality of opiate addiction in a cleverly up-beat, matter of fact manner, but then as the outstanding breakthrough single “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” attests, McBryde’s storytelling has a knack for finding the light at the end of dark tunnels. One that many will recognise, “Dive Bar….” includes stunning steel guitar and the strength of her bourbon-soaked vocals reward the listener a punch in the heart. It’s easy to see why this is the track that has grabbed the attention of the powers that be on Music Row.

Proving she’s no guitar-slinging one-trick pony, surprising slices of the jazzy blues flash on “Southern Babylon” and “Home Sweet Highway” the latter taking us to church with a gospel choir providing a powerful and fitting close to the album.

While the debate continues to wage around who’s country and who’s not, Girl Going Nowhere finds McBryde quietly and efficiently hoeing her own organic row between country and Americana. A true heart on her sleeve performer, this record leaves no doubt that McBryde earned her stripes on the road and remains undoubtedly true to her country rock roots. But more so, there is a sense that she (and by extension, her mainstream label) is taking a risk with honest, exposed song writing; it’s one that pays off and her vulnerabilities draw and reward the listener. Girl Going Nowhere is stellar debut from a girl most definitely going places.

 Track List
  1. Girl Goin’ Nowhere (Ashley McBryde, Jeremy Bussey)
  2. Radioland (Ashley McBryde, Autumn McEntire, Chris Roberts)
  3. American Scandal (Ashley McBryde, Randall Clay, Terri Jo Box)
  4. Southern Babylon (Ashley McBryde, Tommy Collier)
  5. The Jacket (Ashley McBryde, Olivia Rudeen, Neal Cotty)
  6. Livin’ Next to Leroy (Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hayford)
  7. A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega (Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hayford, Jesse Rice)
  8. Andy (I Can’t Live Without You) (Ashley McBryde)
  9. El Dorado (Ashley McBryde, Randall Clay, Patrick Savage)
  10. Tired of Being Happy (Ashley McBryde, Randall Clay, Blue Foley)
  11. Home Sweet Highway (Ashley McBryde, CJ Field, Blue Foley)


About the Author

Amy

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I live for the experience of live music. Nashville is my kind of town and life feels pretty good at a country concert in the sun with a cold beer in hand. My appreciation of country came via my Dad’s collection in the 70’s and 80’s and I spent my teens listening to Springsteen. On a trip to the states about ten years ago I flicked to the CMT channel and Brad Paisley’s Whiskey Lullaby had me hooked. Since then my love of the genre has seen me travel to the US regularly to attend concerts, festivals and more intimate songwriter sessions in some great venues. It is terrific to see artists making the return trip this side of the Atlantic but equally refreshing to see some fantastic homegrown talent gaining recognition. This is an exciting time for “new country” and I am very happy to be along for the ride.