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Ashley McBryde Ashley McBryde
Album: Girl Going Nowhere
Label: Atlantic
Tracks: 11
Website: http://www.ashleymcbryde.com

It is fairly clear that Ashley McBryde is, deservedly, going to defy the title of this potentially award-winning album and find a route to greater recognition.

The eleven diverse songs yielded here are all set to grab her a lot of attention. What's on offer is delicious, delivered with confidence without ever being brash. You can, gleefully, take your pick from stout-hearted, big room rockers to full-blown, authentic, soulful ballads such as American Scandal and Tired Of Being Happy, songs the leading ladies of country may well wish they had written or had been able to record.

This is an outstanding collection that should reduce her future mileage: Ashley clocked up thousands in her pick-up over the past decade, sometimes wondering if she had enough fuel to reach the next gig stop, be it Nashville, Memphis or her hometown of Mammoth Spring (pop 963) at the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

The music major from Arkansas State has played and played the sweaty bars where truckers and bikers rarely pitch up to savour the stoic efforts of the singer/songwriter perched on a stool in the corner, especially when there's ice cold beer to be downed, burgers to munch and dusty road tales to share raucously.

But, it's from this familiar and typical musical slog that Girl Going Nowhere has emerged all bold, clear-headed, intense, warming, astute, rockin' and all-round stonking.

The opener and title track is a riposte to school advice that she was making a wrong career choice sitting behind a guitar, wasting her time and that she would live to regret it. As the song's chorus hits back: "But when the lights come up / And I hear the band / And where they said I'd never be is exactly where I am / I hear the crowd / I look around / And I can't find an empty chair / Not bad for a girl goin' nowhere."

It's terrific and as if tender guitar and vocals were not enough, the song then expands into a shuffling gently swooning mid-tempo gem.

Then it's up through the gears for Radioland, a tribute to her love of the radio and her reliance on it when growing up. It races out of the speakers all charged up, chunky, bright and confident, and packaged to hit the airwaves.

While The Jacket is glorious, unabashed Tom Petty territory the addiction tale of Livin' Next To LeRoy is ballsy, southern rock with a muted Drive By Truckers' jangle nudging through each line and then comes El Dorado with Springsteen's Dancing In the Dark sneaking in here and there.

Southern Babylon has a dimly lit Nora Jones' slouch-in-a-lounge feel where husky vocals come underpinned by deft drums and a gently haunting bass line.

A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega may be one of the top songs you'll hear all year. This co-write with Nicolette Hayford and Jesse Rice is based on a true event as Rice suffered a car breakdown on a journey home one evening and took refuge in a random bar where he met his future wife. "We've all got a number we don't wanna drunk dial / And a good friend we ain't seen in a while / And a slow dance left in these boots / And a chance at puttin' down new roots," she sings.

All the tracks for this major label debut are co-writes, except for the domestic trials illuminated refreshingly in Andy (I Can't Live Without You), which is a look at her home life with her best buddy who still manages to drive her nuts but still has her back.

Overall, with her top-notch band by her side earning full marks, she has given us a truly sparkling country album produced by Jay Joyce that is jammed with storylines that are simply and convincingly told with great hooks.

She may have conducted her school's marching band at one time but it's with her own tunes that Ashley can step out to now in the knowledge she's on to a winner.

This girl is connecting, really going somewhere - and we can all look forward to meeting her again when she gets there.

Mike Ritchie
www.mikeritchiemedia.co.uk