If you mixed the breathy, twang-tinged vocals of a modern-day Shania Twain with the quirky rock urges of Alanis Morissette, you might just get yourself an Ashley McBryde.
The 36-year-old Arkansas native manages to stretch out the silly putty that is country music quite tightly on her fourth album Never Will, but still lets the project serve as an ode to the greatness that is country music at its most traditional.
McBryde proves she’s at her fiercest when she’s at her loudest, as is evident on the piping hot title track. She rebukes any accusations that fame will ever compromise her as a human: “Well, I didn’t, I don’t, I never will.”
The song — much like the rest of the album — is nothing starkly different from other country songs done before. But Ashley gets the formula just right, showcasing her soaring vocals with an uplifting message anyone can joyously sing along with.
Another thing that’s clear about Never Will is that it’s an album for the girls. From the first track “Hang In There Girl,” Ashley is nothing but reassuring to any listener in need of a pat on the back. The message is straightforward enough, the light-sounding strings are therapeutic and make you want to listen to whatever doting advice she tells you.
However, we do also meet some of Ashley’s enemies: the mischievous Martha and the ever-scandalous Sheila. On “Martha Divine,” a brash rock song, Ashley warns her daddy’s lover to stay out of her way — or else. She goes from the whispering verse to the hollering chorus with such stealth that you know Martha isn’t Ashley’s first enemy.
As chaotic as “Martha Divine” is, “Shut Up Sheila” is a toned-down scolding against the titular Sheila who’s found herself butting in a bit too much in the McBryde family affairs. The delayed climax makes every second of Ashley’s overly composed manner worth it when she immediately loses it to rock out with fervor and temerity.
Ashley forays deep in the rock end of country-rock on the electrifying “Voodoo Doll,” another ode to her man’s other woman whom she’s not afraid to call out. The guitar riffs are insane, and Ashley’s literal screaming at one point makes it clear that she is not one to mess with. As far as she goes rock there, she goes equally alternative on the closing track “Styrofoam,” which kicks off with a spoken word introduction on the history of its invention and then transitions into an unlikely ode to the eco-unfriendly material and all the good times she had drinking from cups made out of it.
However, Ashley dredges up some nostalgia for old-time country, with the banjo strummin’ “Velvet Red,” where her vocals are strategically muffled to give the feel that the song was recorded decades ago and dug up from someone’s backcountry time capsule. She also isn’t afraid to confess to some of her bad habits on the effortlessly fun “First Thing I Reach For,” which said “thing” is “the last thing I need.” This song sounds straight out of any Arkansas hoedown, as Ashley masterfully inflects her vocals throughout to display her extensive range.
Any country music aficionado will jump up and down for Ashley’s 11-track album, and any country skeptics are sure to find something for themselves on the tracks where she melds genres together where you might momentarily forget it’s a country album altogether.
However, Ashley’s deeply rich vocals and courage to sing about pretty much anything makes her an artist that you want to continue following, see live someday — and hopefully catch a drink with after.