Music

Ashley McBryde Isn't Afraid to Say 'Never Will'

Photo: Katie Kauss / Courtesy of Essential Broadcast Media

Country music's Ashley McBryde cuts deepest when being comic. She might not know the answer to life's problems and presumably "Never Will" as she put it in the title track. But that doesn't mean she has nothing to say.

Never Will
Ashley McBryde

Warner Bros. Nashville

3 April 2020

Ashley McBryde's latest album, Never Will, begins with a guitar riff borrowed from the Rolling Stones "Tumbling Dice" before launching into a Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band boardwalk vibe. Yes, this is modern country music that sounds more like rock and roll of the 1970s than anything on Billboard magazine's top ten Modern Rock songs or classic country music from the past. McBryde's not alone. One is more likely to hear sounds resembling rock before MTV on country radio than anywhere else on the airwaves—and that includes oldies stations.

What caused this resurgence of the past styles is reminiscent of 1960s artists singing about hopping trains, being coal miners, and such. When finding meaning in the present seems absurd, one looks backward for authenticity and significance. It's the same thing that connects those who avow making America great again with Bernie Sanders' supporters: a belief in a more glorious heritage that should guide our future. Okay, so that's a far stretch from discussing the intro to McBride's "Hang in There Girl", but putting the song in context reveals the significance of what seems to be a song with a simple message: don't give up but remain determined in difficult circumstances. One can hear it as a feminist mantra in the "nevertheless she persisted" mode or as a contemporary update to conservative women's anthems about not giving up one's values.

"Hang in There Girl", like many of the other 11 tracks on the album, is both and neither. That's why putting the lyrics in '70s style instrumentation makes sense as it recalls a time when country-rock was both country and rocked. The divisions between country and rock in the '60s (i.e., hawks vs. doves) had largely disappeared. However, McBryde is not afraid to twang. Her nasal inflections on songs such as "First Thing I Reach For" and "Velvet Red" are complemented by a steel guitar, banjo, and other traditional instruments. The music resembles that of the unsophisticated homespun sounds of the Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival more than the smooth California sounds of the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt.

The lyrics themselves follow in the tradition of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, who would sing bluntly about sex and social hypocrisy in ways the challenged the prevailing orthodoxy, but with a sense of humor and coyness that made their songs more acceptable. One could easily imagine the words of McBryde's comeuppance to religious duplicity "Shut Up Sheila" delivered by Parton or Lynn belting out the vituperative screed against a mistress "Martha Devine". Songs like this reveal McBryde's fighting side.

Like Parton and Lynn, McBryde also has a wicked sense of humor. Her ode to casual hookups, "One Night Standards", is fun and funny as it engages in wordplay (i.e., one night stands with one night standards) even as she deadpans lines like "Well how it goes is, bar closes / There's no king bed covered in roses / Just a room without a view." The insignificance of the coupling is matched by the flippancy by which McBryde presents it.

Sometimes the lightness of the material seems a bit silly, such as her tribute to "Styrofoam" because it allows one to keep one's beverages cold. It's as if McBryde is afraid to get too serious. The more earnest songs on the record, such as the solemn "Stone", are the weakest. McBryde cuts deepest when being comic. She might not know the answer to life's problems and presumably "Never Will" as she put it in the title track. But that doesn't mean she has nothing to say. The quality of the material on this album shows she's got a lot on her mind -- maybe more than she realizes.

7

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.

Music

Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.

Music

Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.

Music

Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.

Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.