It’s a familiar trope: the talented musician who never manages to leave her hometown, or the one who maybe had a shot at recognition but never quite gets there, sheepishly returning to the place that bore her with bags in hand. Ashley McBryde easily could have been one of those stories, and maybe she will be still — the 34-year-old songwriter has been on the Nashville circuit for almost a decade. But “Girl Goin’ Nowhere,” the opening song and title track of her debut album, makes it sound like she’s already reached the pinnacle of her dreams: staring out at an audience that’s staring back her, mouthing the words to songs that she wrote. “When the lights come up/ And I hear the band/ And where they said I’d never be is exactly where I am,” she sings on the song, gratitude and wonder seeped into every syllable.
The shining star of the album is still “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” which was released almost a year ago before she had label backing. But it’s a stunner and a fitting calling card, a perfect distillation of the small-town portraiture that McBryde trades in so effectively throughout her debut. What’s so genius about this song in particular is the way that she takes the song’s rundown, put-upon character — which, from the way she writes, implies that perhaps it’s you — and positions her and her band as the potential guiding light. “Hear a song from a band that saves ya, man/ It’s hittin’ rock bottom, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em,” she sings. “Nothing’s going right/ Makin’ the best of the worst day kinda night.” It’s a song that takes the mundanity of depression and turns it into a weapon.
She can do the big-picture sort of stuff just as well, like on “American Scandal,” where she invokes the archetypal figures of Kennedy and Monroe, turning the seediness of the whole affair (if it did in fact happen) into a star-crossed romance. “Hold me baby, hold me like you ain’t mine to hold,” she sings. “Oh kiss me, baby, kiss me, like you don’t care who knows.” There’s a lot to love about Girl Going Nowhere, and with the songwriting chops McBryde exhibits on Girl Going Nowhere, it’s clear that country music has yet another star to pay attention to.
Listen to the album below.
Girl Going Nowhere is out now via Warner Music Nashville.