CMA nominee Ashley McBryde exceeds standards en route to stardom

If things ever go wrong in her country singing career, Ashley McBryde has a solid backup plan in place: a reality series starring her and Martina McBride, the veteran country star so often mistaken for a parent that McBryde has a website – isashleymcbryderelatedtomartinamcbride. com – whose sole purpose is to serve Merriam-Webster’s definition of “no”.

The show would be called “McBridesmaids”, its premise simple but full of potential. “We’d just go around and crush people’s weddings,” McBryde says with a chesty laugh. “Then at the end of each episode, we would both join the alliance and jam.”

You can already imagine the high jinks. Alas, given McBryde’s role, it’s unlikely “McBridesmaids” will reach Bravo anytime soon. One of Nashville’s most emotionally incisive songwriters — with a voice that can channel pain as vividly as challenge — McBryde, 39, performed this fall as a special guest on the Judds’ tour commemorating the life of Naomi Judd, who died in April. McBryde’s acclaimed new album, “Lindeville,” is set to earn a Grammy nomination or two. And she’s up for five awards at Wednesday night’s Country Music Assn. Awards including Female Vocalist of the Year and Song of the Year with “Never Wanted to Be That Girl”, her chart-topping duet with Carly Pearce.

Add to that the invitation she received last month — from Garth Brooks, no less — to join the venerable Grand Ole Opry, “which are words I’ve literally worked my whole life to hear,” says McBryde, who grew up in rural Arkansas. and made his bones playing bars in Memphis before moving to the country music capital in 2006. “People were texting me asking how I was going to celebrate. I was like, ‘I’m getting on a plane to go sing with Wynonna Judd.’ She laughs again. “How is this real life?”

Said Judd, who picked McBryde (along with Brandi Carlile, Trisha Yearwood and the other McBridesmaid) to hit the road in honor of her late mother and bandmate: “I just think she’s a bada—. If I hadn’t come with my mom, I probably would have been just as rambunctious and had as many tattoos as Ashley. Judd remembers telling McBryde, after a few tour dates together, that she wanted them to do her song “Rock Bottom”.

“She didn’t know the verse, so I said, ‘Well, you better get back on your bus and learn it if you’re going to work with me, Miss Sassy Britches,’ Judd said. “The next night , she came out on stage and took over my song like she was stealing my food.”

McBryde admits all the action was exhausting. “We started glam [hair and makeup] at 4:30 this morning,” she says over a late afternoon beer, curled up on a couch in her manager’s office in Nashville. She’s already done a TV spot and a photo shoot today, and tonight she’ll be performing at the Opry before catching an early flight to do a corporate gig for Southwest Airlines. “But again, that’s what I worked for.” She takes a sip. “The wear of rhythms will rust.”

For many country stars in McBryde’s position, this would be a time to cement their success in a slow industry that values ​​consistency and reliability. Yet with “Lindeville,” her third LP on a major label, the singer takes an unexpected left turn: titled as a nod to Dennis Linde, the Nashville songwriter known for songs like “Goodbye Earl ” of the Chicks and “John Deere Green” by Joe Diffie. “, “Lindeville” is an original concept album full of interconnected songs about small-town residents – people like Brenda, who happily watches a neighbor come home to find her baby daddy in bed with the babysitter. , and Patti, a stripper who pops “a rod to get through her shift and a diaper so she can lie down with the kids.”

The music draws inspiration from folk and bluegrass and West Coast country-rock, and McBryde doesn’t even sing lead on most tracks; instead, she hands the mic to friends such as Brothers Osborne’s Brandy Clark and TJ Osborne, the latest of which delivers a killer ballad about an aging vet who “lost his wife to cancer and a thumbs up.” Vietnam / Jokes that he used to be a hitchhiker but not for very long Between some songs, fake radio jingles for imaginary Lindeville businesses – Dandelion Diner, for example, where “it’s high time for pie time” – give the whole thing a sort of “Prairie Home Companion” vibe.

John Osborne of the Osborne Brothers, who produced the LP, says “Lindeville” feels “like a sixth or seventh album by an established artist who wants to pursue something risky and creative”. The fact that McBryde wanted to make a record like this relatively early “just tells you how fearless she is,” Osborne says, though it also reflects the unique circumstances brought about by COVID-19: forced off the road for most of 2020, McBryde and Clark locked themselves away with several other songwriters in a cubicle in October of that year and spent a week writing in “full freedom”, as McBryde puts it, not caring radio or how the songs could fit on a set list alongside older McBryde hits like “One Night Standards” and “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega.”

“We weren’t worried about what it was for,” she says of the music. “We just had to love him.”

Beyond his debt to Linde, the result showcases a songwriting artistry – and a sense of empathy – clearly influenced by John Prine, whom McBryde became close to before his death in 2020.” Ashley sees everything,” says John Osborne. “She knows the human condition so well.” And yet, you can see the complex character studies on “Lindeville” as a very private way for one woman to divert fan interest from her personal life. McBryde generally avoids talking about relationships and her family, which she says she does “in the interest of protecting my loved ones. I’m not the biggest star there ever was, but they’re bothered. And it’s not something they signed up for.

Which isn’t to say that McBryde’s music lacks specific emotional scars, far from it. One of the highlights of “Lindeville” is “Gospel Night at the Strip Club,” a sparse acoustic number that alternates detailed verses about various club regulars with a moving chorus that says “Jesus loves drunks, whores and queers”. In interviews, McBryde has stated that she knew the lyrics would get her into trouble. When asked to specify with whom, she said, “I was raised in the Church of Christ, and there are certainly members of my family who would disagree with that sentence. But I’m sitting in front of you because that’s not true. He absolutely loves wanderers even more than he loves museums full of good people we think are a thing.

McBryde says she started performing in bars when she was 19. “And I traveled alone – 60,000 miles a year in my truck with my dog ​​and my own PA,” she adds. “Nothing will reshape your belief system like that. ‘No one hangs out in bars except the bad guys.’ other people trying to find joy.

Ashley McBryde performs at CMA Fest 2022 in Nashville.

(Amy Harris/Invision/AP)

Singing affirmatively about queer people — on an album featuring two openly gay country artists in Clark and TJ Osborne — has also thrust McBryde into the culture war raging in Nashville over how gender is or should be. She refers to the feud between Maren Morris and Jason Aldean, in which the two stars traded barbs over trans youth issues, as “a disaster”, although she was initially reluctant to do prescriptions for the country industry.

“I think Nashville had such an idea of ​​what I should be that now I don’t care what Nashville should be,” she says, explaining that when she came to town she was advised to lose. weight and dye their hair. blonde to match a stereotype that her success has helped to dismantle. “I tend to be more inclusive, but I don’t really draw a lot of hard lines, especially in public. If you don’t like tattoos, don’t get them. If you’re against same-sex marriage, don’t don’t marry a homosexual. But can’t one just not be a…holes?”

She thought for a moment. “Country music has always been about coming across as a nice person,” she says. “But I’d like to see us be a good person.”

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