The number eleven could possibly be Ashley Mcbryde’s lucky number right now. She jokingly refers to herself as an “eleven year overnight success“ (her single “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” is riding high on Billboard’s current Top Country Songs Chart ) and having secured a record deal with Warner Music, Nashville last year her first major label release (produced by Jay Joyce) coincidentally features eleven tracks. I’ll be very surprised if this isn’t one of the most talked about albums of the year for all the right reasons, pre-release there was already much anticipation based on Ashley’s live performances both sides of the Atlantic and the tracks made available in advance, and I must say for me it is already a modern day classic.
Ashley honed her craft out on he road playing in bars stateside to sometimes less than appreciative audiences, often solo or if finances allowed with her superb four-piece band “ Deadhorse” who thankfully play and provide backing vocals on this album, they have an understanding of her music that only an artist’s own band can and it makes for a fantastically cohesive sound throughout. Her experiences during this time not only provided inspiration for many of Ashley’s compositions (she had a hand in writing all the album’s tracks and there are some wonderful observations within their lyrics) but helped her find her voice. The classic country/bluegrass influences from her time growing up in small town Arkansas blend with classical/jazz inspiration from her college days, throw into the equation the blues/ rock’n’roll she absorbed while living in Memphis and the result is a fascinating mix.
But essentially “Girl Going Nowhere” remains a country album, full of the genre’s associated storytelling and honesty, which of course isn’t always pretty…… what other type of album would include a track about a meth addict, with lines like “You find out quick how big a hit a little neighbour’s bike will get you” as we have here in the thought provoking “Livin’ Next Door To Leroy “. Granted, smoking weed and getting drunk are mentioned and even glamorised in numerous country songs, but this one dealing with the harsh realities of class A drugs is a real hard hitter. Listen out for its killer guitar solo too! “The Jacket” is pure country through and through, a really poignant song about her father’s love for his battered jean jacket and the memories it holds for him. Like so many of the songs here it paints a perfect picture for the listener. And of course there’s autobiographical country-steeped title track which opens the album and with which many will already be familiar, inspired by Ashley being told at school that her ambition to move to Nashville and write songs would never work out.
This first track is a great introduction to Ashley’s vocals which are fully exposed on this acoustic arrangement (there’s no auto tuning on the album by the way) and wow, how impressive are they throughout the entire album? A great interpreter of lyrics she conveys emotion perfectly, whether on a tender ballad or in full throttle, there’s none of the fancy licks so many artists seem to deem necessary these days just honest no frills delivery. “American Scandal” is, in itself, a track that demonstrates her versatility perfectly with its contrasting vocal requirements, the soaring chorus with her passionate pleading is truly incredible and rips my heart out with every listen.
It’s one of the two love songs on the album, the other is the only solo write and is fast becoming an all time favourite of mine, “Andy ( I Can’t Live Without You ) “. This was apparently written about a housemate/band member but could equally be interpreted as referring to a lover/partner/brother. Totally stripped back production with just Ashley’s great guitar playing and tender vocals, the descriptive lyrics are to the fore, at times it is really humorous and you can imagine Ashley smiling wryly on several occasions as indeed she does here
To the other extreme are the rock-inspired tracks, such as the Springsteen-esque “El Dorado” and the drum and guitar driven “Radioland” which I can’t wait to hear live in a full band set! And sitting somewhere in the middle is the jazz infused mid tempo “Southern Babylon”, not having heard this side of Ashley before it was a surprise and a really pleasant one, I adore her smokey vocals and the cinematic nature of this track is just crying out for a video in my opinion!
I hope I’ve done justice to this fantastic album, I could wax lyrical about it for much longer but i’ll leave you to immerse yourself in it and see what you think! It was abundantly clear from the reception Ashley got during her UK appearances at C2C that she already has many fans here, many singing along with the album tracks made available pre-release (as well as songs from her back catalogue of independently released music). I am sure that next time she comes this entire album will be ingrained in our brains!
Just a final word regarding the production, …….in a recent interview I asked Ashley how much input she had, now there’s a major label and big names involved, and the answer that came back was “Even though we’re all in the plane together it’s ultimately up to me to land it” . Well Ashley, if you’re reading this, you did an amazing job but please don’t even think about a career change to pilot, country music needs artists like you! Oh and next time you’re in a casino, a few dollars on number 11 at the roulette table maybe?
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 Mcbride)
9. “El Dorado” (Ashley McBryde, Randall Clay, Patrick Savage)
10. “Tired of Being Happy” (Ashley McBryde, Randall Clay, Blue Foley)
Review written by Lesley Hastings (twitter.com/lesleyhastings)