Ashley McBryde is a significant new country music voice. She can summon the in-charge authority of Reba one minute, but then hush down to Miranda Lambert’s vulnerability the next. Most folks discovered McBryde through her breakthrough single, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega.” It’s a song about finding the light -- even the darkest circumstances. Or as McBryde puts it, “making the best of the worst day kinda night.”
As good as “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” is, though, “Livin’ Next to LeRoy” is even better. This song addresses substance abuse by putting skin on it. McBryde personalizes these observations with an unusual mixture
of naivety and clear-eyed accuracy. She didn’t realize the depth of LeRoy’s addiction at first, but soon learned
it was deadly. The song addresses the meth crisis head-on. It’s a crisis especially found in rural areas. And although rural America spawns most mainstream country stars, you’d hardly know about our drug addiction epidemic from what’s heard on today’s radio. Country songs go on and on about sweet tea and backroad weekend drives, but cruelly and conveniently ignore the social blights in their own backyard. McBryde begins to help rectify this omission, though, with her timely song. One called “Southern Babylon” continues McBryde’s (many times) painfully truthful picture of the South. On the surface, it’s a story about a traveler running into car trouble on the wrong side of town.
But this lyric is much deeper than mere auto mechanical issues alone. It’s also a song about the seeming inability to escape the sometimes-rotten roots of one’s raising. Whereas Brad Paisley awkwardly attempted to address the complexity of his Southern-ness with “Accidental Racist,” McBryde does much the same thing, only she does so more subtly and metaphorically. For instance, in the song a waitress tries to get this weary sojourner up on stage to sing “Hotel California,” which includes the memorable line, “You can checkout, but you can never leave.” Much the same thing can also be said about growing up in the South.
McBryde is as adept at exploring the personal and intimate, as she is with taking on big social issues. She infuses “Andy (I Can’t Live Without You)” with the sort of irritating detail that every committed couple will recognize. This ‘Andy’ may have a few annoying habits, but he also provides the kind of empathetic love this girl can’t exist without.
The album’s title track "Girl Goin' Nowhere" (written expressly for her Grand Ole Opry debut performance) is a reflective song exploring McBryde’s struggle to make it as a musician. It’s harder than ever these days for artists to achieve success, and McBryde has likely been told many times that she’s ‘going nowhere.’ Such words must have been particularly stinging to a performer with McBryde’s obvious talent. Even so, McBryde also sounds grateful for these struggles, as it’s these hard times that build the most character.
Although McBryde’s music isn’t always the twangiest variety, she vocalizes with one of those Southern-accented voices that leaves everything she sings sounding country. Even when the electric guitars are amped up for the surging “El Dorado,” there’s no escaping that fact that this is one honest-to-goodness girl singing it.
Wading through mainstream country radio’s cliché-filled playlist can get disheartening after a while. Far too often, these are country souls all dressed up in ill-fitting pop clothes. Refreshingly, though, Ashley McBryde never tries to be someone she’s not. She writes heartfelt, insightful and intelligent songs that
are always going somewhere great.