Any woman being signed to a major Nashville record label is positive progress for the genre, especially when they are a talented songwriter like Arkansas native Ashley McBryde. Her single ‘A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega’ has even begun to slowly move upwards on the country charts, which really is something to celebrate in this current climate of bro country dominating the genre. McBryde has supported Miranda Lambert and worked with Eric Church, both of whom understand how to sell quality music to the masses, in the face of the trend towards pop country. Her new album ‘Girl Going Nowhere’ follows in their country rock footsteps, showcasing her powerful vocals and classic songwriting style.
You certainly have to be confident as a new artist to sing about there being no empty chairs at your shows, which McBryde does on the opening title track Girl Goin’ Nowhere. The song was inspired by the fact that no one ever believed she would make it big. Garth Brooks actually covered this one last year and his performance really sells this ‘success’ theme of the song. It is a classic triumph against your doubters story and her debut singing this at the Opry was a real goosebump moment.
Radioland is a catchy and energetic Southern rock song, referencing her rural upbringing and how music inspired her. Of course it feels ironic now that a female artist is singing the praises of country radio, since her odds of getting a song heard nowadays are increasingly slim. The references to Johnny & June and Townes Van Zandt are welcome but I would have liked to hear more of their influence in her music.
American Scandal is epic in sound and controversial in content. It’s not a cheating song exactly but she wants her lover to ‘hold me baby hold me like you ain’t mine to hold’. The reference to JFK and Marilyn Monroe works with the scandalous theme (although in reality there is no evidence they ever did have an affair).
The Jacket is a poignant tribute to an old denim coat which was sadly stolen last year. Livin Next to Leroy is a bluesy rocker about her high school friend and the consequences of drug addiction. Specific personal stories like these really help to bring this album to life.
The highlight of this album is the single A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega, an ode to drowning your sorrows and enjoying yourself no matter what heartbreak comes your way. Also the solo acoustic Andy (I Can’t Live Without You) showcases her admirably direct style of songwriting.
Tired of Being Happy sounds the most ‘country’ in terms of her voice, and her excellent band really rocks out on it. The closer Home Sweet Highway is beautiful and I love songs about the joys of travelling out on the open road.
Now usually I would be against comparing albums just because they were both released in the same week but I do think Girl Going Nowhere makes an interesting juxtaposition with Golden Hour. It’s odd to me that so many people who have been critical of Kacey’s modern sounding album for not being country enough are lauding this one instead. Unlike Kacey’s there’s no banjo or steel or anything that resembles traditional country music instrumentation on this at all. Both these albums work outside of narrow genre definitions of ‘country’ and have found success because of that, which is actually something to be admired.
Girl Going Nowhere is an old fashioned heartland rock album which could have been released any time in the last thirty years and yet that is exactly why it appeals. McBryde has the talent and the songs to go far and you hope she can crossover to gain the mainstream success that has eluded so many other women in country music.