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.