If there’s one artist in Country music that’s worked her way into the hearts of UK fans, it’s Ashley McBryde. The Arkansas-born singer-songwriter released two albums and an EP before she made her major label debut with Girl Going Nowhere in 2018. Following her debut UK appearance at C2C: Country to Country that same year, Ashley has made it a priority to get back to the UK as often as possible and through doing so, she’s built an army of fans. In 2019 she performed on the C2C main stage and proved to be one of the biggest hits of the weekend. Two years on from Girl Going Nowhere, and with plenty of awards to her name, Ashley is back with Never Will.
Prior to the album’s release, Ashley has released the trilogy of songs – One Night Standards, Hang In There Girl and Martha Divine – as well as the gentler Sparrow. Building on the sound she created with Girl Going Nowhere, Ashley is confident to push musical boundaries and expand her sound on Never Will. Teaming up with producer Jay Joyce once again, Never Will finds Ashley embracing a new-found confidence and sharing more of her confessional and deeply personal lyrics. With song-writing credits on all but two of the 11 tracks, Ashley serves up an album that’s rich in variety and impressive in depth.
Never Will opens with Hang In There Girl, a song that sees Ashley reassuring a girl that reminds her of herself that perseverance will ensure that she achieves her dreams. In some ways the song feels like a follow-up to Girl Goin’ Nowhere, with Ashley sharing the lessons she’s learned. That leads into the lead single One Night Standards, a co-write with Shane McAnally and Nicolette Hayford that deals with emotion-less motel hook-ups where two people use each other for pleasure.
One of the album’s most interesting moments is up next, Shut Up Sheila. The slow-building track takes a religious woman who is sticking her nose into other people’s ways of life to task, telling her firmly to remove her nose from situations that don’t concern her. What’s so interesting about the track is the stirring production that transforms the song into a moody song that packs a beat in the latter half but never gives in to the anger that bubbles under the surface.
Showcasing her versatility, Ashley embraces a more traditional Country sound on the self-aware First Thing I Reach For, where she reprimands herself for being unable to stop making bad decisions even though she knows exactly where they’re going to lead her. Voodoo Doll, which sits right in the middle of the record, is the biggest surprise on here and quite possible the best song we’ve heard from Ashley yet. She’s always flirted with rock but on this tale of betrayal she gives in completely and the end result is incredible. The soaring chorus is powerful and I already can’t wait to hear it live.
Elsewhere on the record Ashley gets in a revenge anthem on the pumping Martha Divine, a song about one of Ashley’s dad’s girlfriends, explores bluegrass on the doomed romance of Velvet Red, and Never Will is a defiant middle finger to the people that have tried to rain on Ashley’s parade over the years. The emotional heart of the album is the tear-jerking Stone, an ode to Ashley’s veteran brother who took his own life in 2018. It’s bold and honest lyrically but there’s a line of love that runs through it.
Album closer Styrofoam, written by Randall Clay, is the most divisive track here. Part spoken-word history lesson, part punchy ditty, the song just isn’t one that I could get into. I appreciate Ashley doing something completely different but for me, I just don’t quite get it.
Never Will is likely to continue the hot streak that Ashley McBryde is on. She’s building a strong fanbase around the world and she’s one of the few stars in the world who is exactly the same in real life as she appears through her music. With a mix of defiance, confidence, self-awareness and raw talent, Ashley continues to be one of the best singer-songwriters in the Country genre and she’s fast become the mark of quality for it too.
Track list: 1. Hang In There Girl 2. One Night Standards 3. Shut Up Sheila 4. First Thing I Reach For 5. Voodoo Doll 6. Sparrow 7. Martha Divine 8. Velvet Red 9. Stone 10. Never Will 11. Styrofoam Record label: Warner Records Release date: 3rd April Buy Never Will