Girl Going Nowhere possess an air of immediacy and familiarity without sounding wholly derivative.
Ashley McBryde is no stranger to putting in her time, paying her dues while grinding away on the often-merciless Nashville music factory. Indeed, it’s not for nothing she’s titled her major label debut Girl Going Nowhere; it carries with it the air of someone coming out swinging, allowing the title to be interpreted in one of two ways, but with the confidence implying her impending permanence on the country music scene. While she’s been scrapping away on the Nashville circuit over the last decade or so, she’s made a name for herself opening for some big names: Williams (Jr.), Stapleton, Church.
The latter, in particular, has factored into her seemingly meteoric rise within the last several years, singing her praises and helping “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” become a hit. She even adopts a similarly nasal twang to Eric Church at times. “Radioland,” with its equal parts nostalgia, name-dropping and clever turns of phrase could well be seen as her “Record Year.” Like Church, she focuses on relatable, layperson tales with the broadest possible appeal. It’s a throwback not to the outlaw country years, but rather the big names of the early-‘90s country boom.
“American Scandal” offers a big, sweeping sing-along chorus that not only references a certain fling between a president and Norma Jean, but features production that would not have sounded out of place on any number of country hits stations circa-1992; it’s part Reba, part Wynonna, part Martina McBride. The latter especially comes to mind here, the song sounding not unlike McBride’s “Independence Day” in sound and feel, less the spousal abuse and arson.
Moving back and forth between mid-tempo heartland rock (“The Jacket”), twangy country balladry (“Southern Babylon,” where she does a fine Bobbie Gentry) and slightly harder rocking up-tempo number (“El Dorado”), McBryde positions herself somewhere between the mainstream and the nascent outlaw revival led by the likes of Chris Stapleton and the aforementioned stars of the early ‘90s. It’s a smart move, given the current appeal that nostalgia holds with listeners tiring of the overproduced beats-and-loops-based sounds coming out of Music City over the last few years.
“A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” included here, clearly serves as a template for Girl Going Nowhere, its mid-tempo, country-tinged heartland rock flowing across the whole of the album. It’s a smart move, given the song’s success: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But this approach also feels somewhat tepid in its refusal to move much beyond the tried-and-true. McBryde doesn’t come across as a rabble-rouser looking to shake up the Nashville system, but instead one well aware of the music’s history and heritage and—most importantly—how to play the game and craft a hit song.
This approach lends Girl Going Nowhere an air of immediacy and familiarity without sounding wholly derivative; like a well-worn flannel shirt, well-loved pickup truck or no-frills beer, to stick with the country aesthetic. McBryde doesn’t challenge her listeners—much like Church—and instead seeks to check all the right boxes as she makes the move from Nashville bar circuit to national touring act. And here she proves she’s more than up to the task with a solid set of amiable country that is neither progressive nor pastiche and instead falls just this side of inoffensive while still remaining engaging throughout.