Thursday, 29 March 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Ashley McBryde - Girl Going Nowhere : Warner Music Nashville

Momentum and opportunity are two drivers key to the process of seeking success in the music industry. The latter opened doors for Ashley McBryde after over a decade of playing out the archetype unsigned Nashville singer-songwriter narrative, while the former is about to ignite in the shape of GIRL GOING NOWHERE. This debut album blows right through the country music mainstream like a breath of fresh air without doing too much radical. Maybe view it as a conciliatory record within the contest to save country music, although an act of appeasement is an incidental observation among a rack of eleven songs strengthened by a high tensile outer and similar core.

What makes this record soar up the scale is that its high spots build up so much credit to iron out casual imperfections that could mould it into something more personal for the listener. The inevitable lack of steel, fiddle or banjo twang from a Warner Nashville release does not bow to a traditionalist desire, yet such is the utmost sincerity that the oversight is pardoned. Likewise, there is no real dash to court a trend outside the country confines and thus alienate a loyal base of devotees. The team behind this record, including producer Jay Joyce, must be commended for getting the tinkering and guidance generally right and allowing the undoubted talent of Ashley McBryde to shine brightly from start to finish.

This album has had a lengthy introduction to the wider world since its cracking heartbeat ‘A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega’ was unveiled in the middle of last year. This track is so much more than the proverbial ‘jewel in the crown’ and is a country song for all ages. In the week ahead of its Good Friday release (the most appropriately titled of days), nearly half of the content is freely available on the streaming sites and a raft of videos exist including national TV and Opry appearances. UK audiences had the presence of Ashley at the recent Country-to-Country Festival and hopefully, this is just the beginning of a lengthy love affair with our Isles.

With so much of the album previously out there, the most anticipated task upon receiving the full complement was to check out the six newer tracks. Heading these was the only solo write present and a superb effort to boot in ‘Andy (I Can’t Live Without You)’. A gorgeous stripped down song that allows Ashley to retain ultimate control. The other eyebrow raiser among this dozen is the straight up rocker ‘El Dorado’, which strays deeply in Springsteen territory in the melody attached to the verses. But like so much of the album, it works, even if the rock element throws in a slither of potential doubt. An infectious newbie brings up the album’s rear with Ashley in heartfelt motivational mode as she pours every sensitive sinew into ‘Home Sweet Highway’.

A vital contemporary feel to the sound brings in fans of Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, while its generational spin at least goes back to Martina McBride and Lee Ann Womack. It is good that Ashley’s song writing is fully embraced with a co-hand in each one outside the aforementioned solo piece. Of course the lead off and title track ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’ jumps out from the pack, especially considering the back story of an Arkansas girl following her dreams while leapfrogging an obstacle course of barriers.

While on the topic of what we already know, ‘Radio Land’ is an infectious romp through the obvious, but full credit to getting tractor and Townes Van Zandt in the same line. In a similar vein, getting Kennedy and Monroe namechecked in ‘American Scandal’ draws attention to a semi-epic song that evolves into one of personal interpretation. ‘Tired of Being Happy’ is the final pre-available song and a mischievous slant on the time honoured country music DNA trait of putting ‘good ole cheatin’’ at least on the table. Here, like continually throughout the record, the vocals sparkle with a southern charm, echoing strength, sadness, hope and gratitude. In other words, they make a critical incision.

The three remaining tracks return to the new category and form a thread at the heart of the record. ‘Southern Babylon’ starts the run in a sultry dark mood as we head in another storytelling direction, which glues your ears to the narrative being revealed. This is followed by ‘The Jacket’, dripping in nostalgia and that everlasting country music trait of keeping the song writing clear and meaningfully explicit. Another example of the temperate production doing the job. ‘Livin’ Next to LeRoy’ takes you right into the earthy roots of country music song mining with its character development.

GIRL GOING NOWHERE could be the most important release by a mainstream Nashville label this year, especially if you apply any factors relating to gender politics. A record which funnels the listener straight into its strengths, and there are plenty. Ashley McBryde has created a mightily impressive album that endorses the apparent momentum being built. Where it leads her who knows, but being on board is a ticket not to be missed.

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