By Annalisha Fragmin
The great Rodney Crowell once proclaimed, “Life is Messy,” and Ashley McBryde’s new album, “Never Will,” tips its Styrofoam cup in acknowledgment.
The first song on the album, “Hang in There Girl,” is a fine introduction to the McBryde cast of misfits and hell-raisers that take the stage on “Never Will.” In it, McBryde offers hope to a 15-year-old living in a trailer who wants to get the hell out of there. She urges, when the time comes, “check the oil and the anti-freeze and go.”
Of course, just because you take the first chance to run doesn’t mean that things will work out smoothly. “Sparrow” describes the consequences of sacrificing the things you love to get the dream you think you love more. The couple at the heart of “Velvet Red” also take a gamble, on a love between “the mayor’s eldest daughter” and “a poor boy down in that holler,” but both the story and the Patty Loveless-style harmonies foretell a doomed future.
The stand-out of the album is “Stone.” It touches on all the subtle ways someone can affect our lives before they leave us. Death doesn’t easily fit into any box that we might prefer, so it’s fitting that the melancholy ache of “Stone” is found alongside the bubbling anger of “Shut Up Sheila,” a song about dealing with a nosy outsider during a grandmother’s dying days. Death might bring out our rebellious side, or it might inspire us to look back on the lessons – and disappointments – bequeathed by our lost loved ones.
But an album full of choices also celebrates the ones that bring rewards. In the title track, McBryde looks back on accomplishments that naysayers said she’d never achieve.
Other songs on the album simply acknowledge the occasionally joyful mess that comes when we make bad choices. “Martha Divine” is the story of an the daughter of an unfaithful man, as she sets out to kill his lover to avenge her mother’s honor. In “One-Night Standards,” the singer just wants a little company for the night, without undue complications. “The First Thing I Reach For” is an uptempo listing of things that the singer finds equally terrible and irresistible: brown liquor in coffee, cigarettes, and “another night of bad decisions, there’s one still laying in my bed.” The album ends with “Styrofoam,” which sees that brown liquor returning as the narrator slips some in with her Diet Coke before walking “down Main Street … right up underneath the nose of the fuzz.”
In each of these songs, the narrator is fully aware of her bad choices, isn’t making any excuses for them, but also isn’t allowing those bad choices to define her life.
Ultimately, that message is the common thread of this album: every day doesn’t have to be a Friday night party, and that’s okay. Some days, it’s a funeral. Other days you’re clinging to your brown liquor in your 44 ounce cup after an ill-advised one night stand. Some days, you have to tell Sheila to go to hell.
Whatever the messy reason you’re skipping that Friday night party, “Never Will” offers validation, solidarity and comfort.