Ashley McBryde has reminded folk that major-label artists can score a big win if they are allowed to do what they want. Inspired by songwriter Dennis Linde, who wrote Goodbye Earl and Bubba Shot The Jukebox, she has created a world populated by small-town characters.
This is almost a ‘what we did in our summer holidays’ project from Ashley, akin to The Highwomen. She has been joined by some of the best writers in town to create a world that could only be found in rural America. They include: Aaron Raitiere, who is hot right now; Connie Harrington, still best known for I Drive Your Truck; the peerless Brandy Clark; and Ashley’s mate Nicolette Hayford, who records as Pillbox Patti.
The ten tracks are interspersed with three interludes imagining jingles from pawnshops, diners and funeral homes (‘When you meet your maker, we’ll be your undertaker!’). The Missed Connection Section of the Lindeville Gazette sounds like something they’d do on A Prairie Home Companion, where author Garrison Keillor tells of the lives of Lake Wobegon as a sort of country version of Ambridge, home of The Archers.
The Girl In The Picture is a suitably vivid song with words and phrases like ‘cigarette hand’ and ‘tablecloth’. It has vocals by Patti/Nicolette, who will be a superstar. If These Dogs Could Talk is a waltz with Brandy on vocals (don’t forget Brandy wrote a song called Soap Opera which could fit snugly if a musical were based on Lindeville) while Play Ball has John and TJ Osborne doing their award-winning rootsy rock.
The song is full of wisdom (‘soak it in when you win’) and reminds me of any number of songs of that ilk, like Waitin’ on a Woman by Brad Paisley. John Osborne, who has learned a great deal from Jay Joyce’s eccentric corralling of musicians who include Ashley herself, is named as the producer but must also provide those guitar solos that run throughout the album. Jesus Jenny features vocals from Aaron lamenting Jenny’s hangover (‘can’t even cuss me right!’) and ‘praying that your demons go away’. The production includes some wah-wah guitar which mimic Jenny’s state of mind.
Gospel Night at the Strip Club has talk-sung vocals from Benjy Davis, the sixth member of the crew, who is ‘waiting for more sinners to show up’. He also asks whether you’d know Jesus ‘if he bought you a beer’ and there are massed hallelujahs which will be wonderful should the project go to the stage.
Caylee Hammack, who has flown under the radar in recent years after an impressive debut album, returns with a vengeance and brings her vocals to three tracks, joining Brandy and Patti/Nicolette: album opener Brenda Put Your Bra On, about catching a neighbour in a fight with his wife, is as fun as its title; When Will I Be Loved is a transcription of the Linda Ronstadt cover of the Phil Everly composition; while Bonfire At Tina’s has Ashley’s lead vocals answered by cries of ‘light it up!’ and a lyric which has the same emotional pull as many of Ashley’s songs about life in a small town. There’s even a string section in the middle to hammer home the pathos.
Ashley ends the album with the title track on which dogs are howling, the wind is blowing and the stars are out. Someone strums a mandolin and we have a parade of characters getting on with their lives. I would have moved this up the tracklist, or made it the ‘explainer’ track in the musical, but it ends the album with a flourish. Lindeville beats a Christmas project as a stopgap before a bigger album.
And, of course, a huge mazaltov for Ashley McBryde on her invitation to become an Opry member, extended by Garth Brooks, who loved her song Girl Goin’ Nowhere so much he covered it in concert.
UPDATE: As predicted, the show is coming to Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in February 2023.