Never Will’ is the follow-up to Ashley McBryde’s critically acclaimed 2018 album “Girl Going Nowhere’, which won her ‘New artist of the Year’ at the 53rd ACMA Awards in 2019.
It’s never an easy task following up an album that good, but Ms McBryde has absolutely knocked this one clean out of the park!
Once again, Ashley has hooked up with producer-extraordinaire Jay Joyce, who has given this record a huge and very polished live sound which suits the songs perfectly. A change in lead guitarist in the period between albums has also helped Ashley’s sound no end.
The new guy has chops a-plenty and is equally at home on fairly traditional country licks as he is on screaming rock-inflected solos.
And that kinda sums up this record; it straddles the line between modern country and heartland rock very well, taking influences from both and creating something special that doesn’t sound anything like the typical radio-fodder coming out of Nashville, which is just how Ashley wants it – her music, her terms!
Kicking off with ‘Hang In There Girl’, the album sets out with a bold statement of intent. This is a song for the ordinary girl who faces real life struggles but is gonna make it through if she just hangs in there. Telecasters spit and snarl around the hooklines on this big up-tempo opener – great way to kick off an album.
‘One Night Standards’ is more laid back and mid-tempo and is a refreshingly honest and lyrically brilliant take on the story of the one-night stand. A true tale from the road, perhaps? As always, Ashley McBryde keeps it real on an excellent first single release from the album.
Next up is ‘Shut Up Sheila’, which, as its name suggests, is a not exactly positive take on the world! Slower paced and atmospherically produced, this is a smouldering and fierce tale that builds and builds with layers of guitar and Hammond organ.
This is lyrically intense; I wouldn’t want to be Sheila, I can tell you! The guitar solo on this is pure classic rock and the track sounds anything but country as it snarls to its feisty conclusion.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jsj6RdKU-u4&w=560&h=315]
In complete contrast is the very traditional country track ‘First Thing I Reach For’. Full of acoustic guitar, twanging Telecasters and weeping steel, it is so different from the previous track, but still fits perfectly – the hooks and harmonies are big, the groove is a mile wide and the lyrics are as incisive as ever. One of the most ‘country’ songs on the album.
‘Voodoo Doll’ is next and is another big uptempo rock-inflected track with dark lyrical subject matter and an unexpected mandolin solo before the screaming guitars kick in again. This will slay live!
‘Sparrow’ follows and is another complete contrast to the previous track. This is a contemplative acoustic ballad of stunning beauty as Ashley talks to her mother while out on the road. The hooklines and lyrics on this are just beautiful and the guitars are utterly sublime – clear testament to the genius of producer Jay Joyce.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkDkPfloJQU&w=560&h=315]
The quality doesn’t dip from here either, as ‘Martha Divine’ takes a pasting for doing something she shouldn’t with Ashley’s daddy! Seriously – don’t mess with Ms McBryde…she ain’t playing nice! “I’ve got this feelin’, and I’ve got this shovel.
Between me and you and it you’re in a little trouble!” Ashley sings in an almost deadpan and understated manner. Scary…and scarily catchy as well! This one was also a single.
‘Velvet Red’, ‘Stone’ and ‘Never Will’ keep the quality high. The former sounds all lo-fi like old country vinyl with layered country harmonies and sparsely traditional production.
This could’ve easily been on any classic country album from the 50s or 60s. ‘Stone’ is another more laid back track. This is about Ashley’s deceased brother, with sparse acoustic production, brilliant lyrics and aching melodies really tugging on the heartstrings. Sad, but beautiful.
Never Will’ is back to the uptempo rock-inflected style. This is an autobiographical track and is the natural successor to ‘Girl Going Nowhere’ from the previous album and Ashley sets her stall out powerfully here – she’ll never listen to those who put her down or try to make her become what she isn’t. Powerful stuff and you know she means it!
The final track is a cover of a Randall Clay track called ‘Styrofoam.’ It’s a tribute to the deceased writer (he also co-wrote ‘First Thing I Reach For’ as well as some tracks on the ‘Girl Going Nowhere’ album) and is a bit of a jokey and a throwaway track. It doesn’t really fit and is an odd way to end an album of such magnitude.
You’ve probably already worked out that I’m a HUGE fan of this record. Ashley McBryde is THE real deal and this album is a masterclass in how to do rock-inflected modern country properly on one’s own terms. Everything about it just works – lyrics, production, arrangements and performances are top-notch throughout. Absolutely essential.
Review by Andy Hawes for MPM