Album Review – “Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville”

photo: Katie Kauss

It’s a remarkable achievement that an album like this was even made under the otherwise repressive jurisdiction of the Music Row system in Nashville. No, you should not consider this like a conventional album release by Ashley McBryde, meaning a succession of potential radio singles and album cuts sequenced into a typical track list. McBryde barely appears on some of these songs, and some of the songs aren’t really songs at all. This is more of a conceptualized collaboration between Ashley McBryde and some of her fellow songwriters. It’s also quite interesting, and cool.

The album came together over a week long songwriting retreat at a cabin just outside of Nashville. Such retreats are not uncommon in the mainstream country ecosystem. Eric Church and others take this same tact to making records. They also commonly result in more songs than are needed for an album, and often, songs that are never meant for public consumption, but are written in jest, for the songwriters to entertain each other or stimulate themselves creatively, and sometimes, songs that are just too racy for mass consumption.

Now imagine an album comprised of these other songs that are usually left on the cutting house floor, not because they’re not quality, but because they’re just not songs that are usually considered commercially applicable, at least by prevailing notions. That is what Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville is—composed around the characters of a fictional town named after the influential songwriter Dennis Linde, who penned such gems as “Bubba Shot The Jukebox” by Mark Chesnutt, “Goodbye Earl” by the [Dixie] Chicks, and Sammy Kershaw’s “Queen of My Doublewide Trailer,” which incidentally, features the same “Earl” from the “Goodbye Earl” song.

Creating a little universe where the characters from different songs interact with each other is the direct inspiration behind this album. With songs like “Shut Up Sheila” and “Livin’ Next to Leroy,” Ashley McBryde already had a strong penchant for character-driven songs in her repertoire. So with songwriters Aaron Raitiere, Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, Connie Harrington, Benjy Davis, Pillbox Patti (Nicolette Hayford), and Brothers Osborne, they chose to create a small town with a specific cast of characters to live in it.

You could consider Lindeville just as much like a stage production as you could a studio album, with the cast of characters unfolding before you as the songs transpire. A few of the tracks are commercials for Lindeville businesses, specifically the “Dandelion Diner,” “Ronnie’s Pawn Shop,” and the “Forken Family Funeral Home,” with Ashley McBryde’s jingles filtered through an AM radio to give them a more authentic feel. For the male characters, Aaron Raiterie, Benjy Davis, and T.J. Osborne step up to sing lead, just as Brandy Clark, Caylee Hammack, and Pillbox Patti do as well. John Osborne of Brothers Osborne was the producer of the album.

Again, not enough can be said about the out-of-the-box nature of this effort, and how unusual this is for a major country music label like Warner Music Nashville to release it. It’s a passion project, and one that couldn’t have been cheap to make. Though Ashley McBryde has been a huge critical success, it’s not like she’s a commercial powerhouse. But somehow she’s won the latitude to make something like this, and you can’t help but cheer her on, even if it’s not your thing. It’s somewhat reminiscent of some Dierks Bentley projects, like Up On The Ridge, or his Hot Country Knights band.

And some of these songs include explicit language, adult themes, and others stuff that typically Nashville major labels would frown upon. But if we’re being honest, this side of the country music songwriting realm also comes with its own set of songwriting clichés. This sort of campy exposé of small town rural life is not novel, including in the mainstream. It’s what Kacey Musgraves started her career on, what the Pistol Annies devoted their first couple of records to, and what has buttered Brandy Clark’s bread for the majority of her career.

You also feel like you need a few more songs here to flesh out a complete picture of the doings of Lindeville. But as the album continues on, the tracks become less silly, and there’s some really stellar and more serious stuff, whether it’s McBryde’s cover of “When Will I Be Loved,” or the inspired “Bonfire At Tina’s” and “Lindeville.” And this album is also unmistakably country—certainly more country than Ashley McBryde’s Jay Joyce-produced studio albums, and definitely more country than what John Osborne and Brothers Osborne are doing these days.

Ashley McBryde has already let it be known that she does have a proper third studio album also on the way, and perhaps sooner than later. Lindeville is just a quick detour on what is increasingly becoming one of the most interesting, critically-acclaimed, and important careers in the mainstream. This is not what she’s expecting to hang the next 18 months of her career on, or to seed radio with singles from.

But Lindeville is one of those albums that will go on to define a more compelling and atypical career from an artist that is helping to break the mold of what we can expect from major label country. Incidentally, it also helps highlight some important songwriters. But perhaps most importantly, Ashley McBryde’s Lindeville symbolizes that we may be entering an era when artists are allowed opportunities to do things that disrupt the regular rhythms of music production instead of only adhering to them. And that is exciting.

Two Guns Up (9/10)

(Editor’s note: In retrospective, the initial score for this record was deemed too low, and was changed.)

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