ALBUM REVIEW: Ashley McBryde – ‘Never Will’

LifeInASong_UK

The last two years and have been an amazing time for Ashley McBryde. After spending 12 years working in a ’10’ year town, her career exploded in a blast of critical, peer and fan acclaim. Garth Brooks covered her seminal ‘Girl Goin Nowhere’ and changed the lyrics. Trisha Yearwood ended up in full possession of ‘Bible and a .44’. Her debut album made friends around the world but let’s address the elephant in the room – we, over here in the UK, liked her FIRST!!! She’s ours. We’ve got dibs. Just to let you know.

McBryde’s break-out performances at the C2C Festival in London in March 2018 is still talked about as the stuff of legend. There hasn’t been any other artist before her or since that has made the kind of impact that she did during those three short days. A follow-up performance on the main stage followed the year after, as did solo shows and a great support slot on the Luke Combs tour. The buzz that McBryde generated in Europe really carried her on a wave of acclaim back home and it has left her, alongside the aforementioned Combs, quite simply the hottest property in commercial Country music right now.

The music industry is littered with tales of DSAS. Difficult Second Album Syndrome. That tricky sophomore album is, historically the hardest one to produce. After-all, most debut albums are labours of love, created over a number of years of focused creativity but then when an artist explodes the demand for new content often means a shortened window in which to produce that next release, in difficult conditions too – with the band or the musician often out on tour for most of that period. The Stone Roses, The Strokes, Alanis Morissette, the Beastie Boys and Bon Jovi all made their most disappointing and commercially unsuccessful albums the second time around.

HAVE NO FEAR – THIS HAS NOT HAPPENED TO ASHLEY MCBRYDE!!!

‘Never Will’ is quite simply incendiary. This is Ashley McBryde amplified to the MAX. Bigger sound, bigger ambitions and bigger balls. Everything that we loved about ‘Girl Going Nowhere’ has been turned up, just one more notch, to eleven and McBryde has managed to do this by superbly maintaining that balance between the Country and the Rock side of her persona.

There are some superb rock sounds within ‘Never Will’. The album opens in a jangle of rock guitars with ‘Hang in there Girl’, which seems like a natural sequel to ‘Girl Goin’ Nowhere’ (the song) in its assertions that if you hang in there, it’ll be alright. The title track, ‘Never Will’, has the same 80’s leaning-rock sound that ‘El Dorado’ had on the debut mixed with an obvious nod towards Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks. It’s an incredibly autobiographical song about McBryde’s career to date and the struggles she has been through. The track contains one of the best guitar solos outside of any Bon Jovi, Def Leppard or G ‘n’ R song , and lyrically soars with positivity as McBryde concludes that “I wouldn’t trade one moment for the way it feels”.

‘Sticking with the rock side of ‘Never Will’ brings us to ‘One Night Standards’. Current single, just about to break the Top 30, ‘…..Standards’ has those mid-tempo, ‘Dahlonega’ vibes and some very raw, painful and honest lyrics whilst also throwing at us another amazing, rock-tinged guitar solo. ‘Sparrow’, which comes expertly placed after the mind-blowing ‘Voodoo Doll’ (more about this one later), lightens the mood a little, like a palate cleanser. It’s quiet verses are followed by a louder chorus and some more 80’s-tinged guitar licks, a guitar solo and a final third that brings in echoes of something way, way bigger – like the huge 10 minute opus, ‘November Rain’ from Guns N Roses and yet amongst all the frenetic rock moves that McBryde employs on the song, it is, at its heart, a simple, honest, raw song about the lonely life of a touring musician.

It is with ‘Martha Devine’, with its military-style drumbeat opening and uptempo tendency to romp along where we see the Rock and Country sides of Ashley McBryde combine. ‘…Devine’ is a rock song with Country lyrics and Nashville-around-the-edges ambitions. An incendiary tale of a cheating father and what happens to his unlucky mistress, it completes an awesome trilogy of cheating songs with women’s names after ‘Jolene’ and ‘Diane’. Wonderful storytelling abounds as McBryde defends herself to both her fans and Martha Devine herself with the immortal line, “It ain’t murder if I bury you alive”.

The Country side of ‘Never Will’ is well represented by a number of tracks that are dripping in traditional sounds and open, authentic writing. McBryde isn’t afraid of rattling a few cages on these songs either, ramping up her honesty more now that she has stronger foundations and a loyal fan base behind her.

‘The First Thing I Reach For’ begins all Jerry Reed, jangly Country guitars yet there is a juxtaposition between the lightness of touch in the music and the pain in the lyrics. ‘The first thing I reach for…is the last thing I need,’ McBryde admits, making numerous references to loss and brown liquor. ‘Velvet Red’, similarly, is a song, that if you closed your eyes a little, could make you believe you were listening to the Carter family somewhere amongst the Appalachian mountains in 1928. The production quality of the song and McBryde’s vocals have been deliberately aged to achieve this feel. The track, driven by the banjo, is about forbidden love that has one of those ‘last line twists’ that only real Country music can achieve. A real wallop of a line that makes you listen to ‘Velvet Red’ very differently next time around!

Album closer, ‘Styrofoam’ is a Country hit and live classic in waiting! McBryde delivers a nice history lesson about the aforementioned product’s invention before the funky guitars kick in as she sings about its uses, focusing particularly on styrofoam’s ability to be used in 44 ounce cups, half filled with diet coke and half filled with brown liquor! It has a Brad Paisley feel to it that will delight Country and Rock fans alike.

‘Never Will’ is an album full of lyrical honesty and painful self-truths, way more than ‘Girl Going Nowhere’ ever was. It’s almost like McBryde has sat down and said, you know what, ‘F’ it, I’m going to say exactly what it is I’ve always wanted to say and anyone who isn’t ok or onboard with that can just go twist. ‘Shut Up Sheila’ brings us the first instance of that. The whole song feels like a response to an online troll or real-life busybody who is sticking their nose into something (a family funeral) that doesn’t pertain to them. McBryde’s devil-may-care, two-fingered salute to interference and to Christianity may not play well with certain sections of the Southern right, but you know what, she doesn’t need or probably even want, their support anyway. ‘Stone’, dedicated to the memory of her brother, Clay, who committed suicide in 2018, and to the memory of Air Force Sergeant David Stone also, is a natural sounding sequel to ‘Bible and a .44’ which, was considered ‘too risky’ to put on the debut album a couple of years ago. Now? Screw em!! It’s a quiet, restrained, painful song about emotions, about stoicism, about the hardness of older brothers and the nature of sibling relationships. There is nothing pretty or polished about this song. McBryde lays it all out there for everyone to see, the good and the bad and the painful self-realisation that, “I’m finding now that you’re gone, we were cut from the same stone”.

And that brings us to ‘Voodoo Doll’. Co-written (as was ‘Sparrow) with Brandy Clark, amongst others. There’s going to be a lot written about this song. This dark tale of desire and obsession. All we want to say about it is that it’s quite simply the best song we’ve heard this year. An anthem. We stan you Ashley McBryde – this is the way to speak to the world. We’re so proud of you and ‘Never Will’ turn our backs or forget about your enthusiasm and support that you’ve given, both me as a writer for Lyric Magazine and Your Life in a Song and the UK in gneral. This is THE song of 2020 for both its musical craft, its lyrics and the balls behind it too.

‘Never Will’ is a triumph. It’s an incendiary album of painful truths and bombastic sounds. Country to the max in places, devil-horn fingers and 80’s rock moves in others. Lyrically, has there been a more open, honest and authentic set of songs assembled in one place, ever, in recent times? Every song SAYS something. Sometimes it’s ‘Hang in there Girl’, sometimes it’s the raw honesty that comes with airing your flaws and sometimes it’s the cold, hard truth of telling someone else to ‘F off’. There are no love songs on ‘Never Will, unless you count the daughter-father love of ‘Martha Devine’ or the offspring of forbidden love on ‘Velvet Red’. That is not what this album is about. This is a self-help manual that comes with a bottle of brown liquor. It’s the reflection in the mirror the morning after rather than the glamorous selfie-shots of the night before. It’s Country music the way Johnny Cash used to write. Painful. Truthful. Raw. God bless you Ashley McBryde, never change, never bend, ‘Never Will’.

James Daykin
@rockjames

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