Review: Ashley McBryde's 'Never Will' - Rolling Stone
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Ashley McBryde Tells Stories of Career Struggles and Small Town Drama on ‘Never Will’

Her second major label album is daring and deep, proof that she’s one of country”s sharpest truth-tellers.

Ashley McBryde

Alysse Gafkjen

The past decade in country music has been a boom time for small-town truth tellers — artists like Brandy Clark, Angaleena Presley, and Kacey Musgraves — who countered Nashville’s trucks-and-tailgates formula with stripped-down realism. In 2018, Arkansas native Ashley McBryde released one of the most striking country LPs in recent memory with Girl Going Nowhere; her music honored Townes Van Zandt and John Mellencamp, and she sang with plain-spoken vulnerability about everyday stuff like her platonic roommate or the folks back home who told her she’d never make a living from her art, delivering each song with a conviction that felt mythically down-to-earth.
McBryde’s second major-label release, Never Will, is just as daring and deep, sometimes deceptively so. On the surface, the record is centered around her long and winding dirt road of a career. The decade of roadhouse gigging she first sang about on Girl Going Nowhere’s stunning title track informed songs like the Bob Seger-ish “Hang In There Girl” and the Heart/Fleetwood Mac-channeling “Never Will,” anthems of self-determination amid life-changing success.

With Jay Joyce returning as producer, the heartland rock of Girl Going Nowhere is the primary palette, but McBryde shows off more of her varied influences this time around. The LP’s most exciting tracks sound like little else on country radio: “Velvet Red” is an Emmylou Harris-gone-bluegrass ballad about an Appalachian Romeo and Juliet. “First Thing I Reach For” conjures the Telecaster wisdom of Merle Haggard.

Despite her first-person songwriting safety zone, McBryde is at her best here singing about other people, telling tales of forbidden romance, small-town piety, and honky-tonk hair of the dog. Transgressive lust is a defining theme, from the adulteress murder ballad “Martha Divine” to the dark sensuality of “Voodoo Doll” (“Feel the pretty black dress slipping off her back”) to the straightforward portrayal of casual sex on “One Night Standards.” “How it goes is/Bar closes,” McBryde sings on the latter, “There’s no king bed covered in roses.”

McBryde’s small-town heroes are as iconoclastic as she is. In “Shut Up Sheila,” a family sits around a hospital room with their dying grandma; when someone’s churchy girlfriend suggests a chorus of “Amazing Grace,” these smokin’, drinkin’ unbelievers shoot back with their own agnostic gospel: “We just go about letting go in our own way.” Going her own way is what McBryde does best.

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