Album Discussion: ‘Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville’

You know, usually when an artist has the acclaim, sales, and support from every facet of the country music industry aside from radio, you get half-baked attempts at conquering that last bastion by trying to fit square pegs into round holes – often squandering any potential once there. But Ashley McBryde has always been something of anti-star, able to release smartly written major label projects with more experimental production tendencies (that’s Jay Joyce for you) and cultivate a more unique artistic identity because of it, even if the airplay chart says otherwise.

But hey, if radio won’t bite, might as well get weirder, bolder, and more experimental … though I have to say, I wasn’t expecting this – a Dennis Linde-inspired side project about a fictional small town named Lindeville that, while spearheaded by McBryde and clearly influenced by the cohesive nature of Linde’s songs and character and world-building tropes, is actually the sort of group project you don’t see often (or hell, at all) in mainstream country music. As such, it’s hard to call this an Ashley McBryde album so much as a project that comprises a ton of misfits with every bit of industry support other than radio, from Brandy Clark to Caylee Hammack and Brothers Osborne, and even further down to more obscure names like “Pillbox Patti” (Nicolette Hayford), Connie Harrington, Aaron Raitiere, and Benjy Davis.

In a way, then, it reminds me of the sort of approach Jenny Tolman takes with her own albums mixed with the all-encompassing thematic cohesion we saw with Dave Cobb’s 2016 Southern Family compilation. And, to no one’s surprise, given the names involved it’s fantastic, where even though the core idea can feel a bit more fragmented than it should at points, it’s still just the sort of wild mashup of ideas that doesn’t come around very often; even if I didn’t love it, I’d certainly have to respect it.

But I also think those going in expecting a proper McBryde project are going to be thrown for a loop, mostly because this is a true joint effort between all aforementioned names, even going so far as to swap Jay Joyce for John Osborne on production. And that it starts with two of its more gimmicky cuts doesn’t help, either: “Brenda Put Your Bra On” definitely helps establish the drama about to unfold in this small town – and, subsequently, the entire remainder of the album – but that repetitive hook really turned me off quickly. And then it leads into “Jesus Jenny,” where Aaron Raitiere takes lead vocal duty … and while I already wasn’t wild about the Brent Cobb-esque slow-rolling drawl he tends to default to with his delivery, as an interpreter I find him even less appealing. This song sits in between a weird middle ground of playing things serious as some afar narrator casts judgment on an obvious screw-up of a woman, and trying to play things humorously by painting him as being in the same boat. I guess I can maybe see what they were going for here in establishing the usual judgmental glances and murmurs that come through in a small town when people have obvious issues to work out, but this just doesn’t work either way at all; it’s a dud.

But it’s also those first tracks that do call into question the entire nature of this project. And at a glance, it’s not the most revolutionary concept. I already drew comparisons to Jenny Tolman and could make further ones to what she did this year on Married in a Honky Tonk, and this sort of small town commentary that trades between esoteric humor and social issue commentary is easily reminiscent of, say, Kacey Musgraves’ early work. But heck, McBryde and her collaborators know they’re just furthering a fascinating conversation, hence why they even call back to her own past character-focused songs like “Livin’ Next to Leroy” and “Shut Up Sheila.” They’re usually just names and references brought up and could easily be missed, sure, but even still, therein lies the gold nugget as to why this works so well – a sense of focus, commitment, and cohesion. And considering Dennis Linde himself had characters like the infamous Earl – who showed up in songs like Sammy Kershaw’s “Queen of My Doublewide Trailer” and was killed off in the Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” – it’s a more fitting tribute than one may initially think.

But again, the key here is that it’s a joint effort. And what I like most is that, because I know McBryde can nail the cathartic high of the chorus and especially that hook on “Bonfire at Tina’s,” and that Brandy Clark can deliver something creatively quirky and fun with a wink and a smile on “If These Dogs Could Talk,” it’s the lesser-known artists that surprise me greatly – and it’s the moments that push the more well-known artists out of their comfort zones that surprise me greatly, too. For one, Brothers Osborne – typically known for more blazing guitar-driven country-rock – get to handle something a bit warmer with “Play Ball,” nestled in among rounder, earthier tones as TJ Osborne gives a voice to Pete, a Vietnam veteran who lives by his own code and carries the burden of memories good and bad, but is happy living in the present for those around him, including as something of a father figure to TJ’s character. And while one might argue that Jay Joyce’s more weirdly experimental production might have fit the quirky humor of tracks like “Brenda Put Your Bra On,” the flat “Missed Connection Section…” where Clark and Raitiere just don’t have the chemistry to make the duet work (I don’t know, let him write but don’t let him sing, I guess?), or any of the commercial skits here, I’m surprised we got John Osborne instead to emphasize a lot of rounded, laidback grooves and tones that are warm but restrained enough to let the voices and writing shine.

Not that a little bit of polish is bad, mind you. I actually think it’s what adds bigger urgency and stakes to the drama behind, say, the aforementioned “Bonfire at Tina’s” or “The Girl in the Picture,” a Pillbox Patti-led track about a woman who was once a hometown celebrity and had her shot at success, only to end up fading in the background as time and misspent expectations crept in; it feels like it’s missing a verse or bridge to tie it all together better, but it’s still a great moment. And it’s moments like that and “Play Ball” that emphasize the humanity and empathy with which this album aims its scope, where even though the gossip and rumors can also provide a validly entertaining backbone – hell, it’s the entire premise of “If These Dogs Could Talk,” and I dare not say more because there are certain one-liners you just have to hear for yourself – it’s more about framing a larger picture of a town and its characters doing their best to make it through each day. And they often need to lean on each other to do so, as well.

Besides, the beauty is that it’s a fictional small town where McBryde and her guests can make their own rules, meaning they can create a scenario like “Gospel Night at the Strip Club” that’s true to its title and non-judgmental in establishing the characters who make it happen … and where the faith presented is of a higher power than can love everyone equally – drunkards, whores, queers and all. And if the neighborhood women want to blow off steam and give a big fuck-all to everything and everyone that’s done them wrong, well by Dennis Linde, they can do just that on “Bonfire at Tina’s.” I even love that it ends with a surprisingly downbeat title track, where the whole town has gone to sleep after an eventful day and McBryde just hopes and wishes her characters survive tonight in hopes of a better tomorrow. Even despite the zanier framing at points, ultimately this is just an album concerned with painting characters who struggle with the same issues of identity and self-worth we all do, at least from time to time. It’s what even makes the “When Will I Be Loved” cover kind of work in context … well, that and those harmonies.

With that said, I do think this album can feel a bit more fragmented than intended at points, perhaps feeling a shade lacking in bigger dramatic swings that tie it all together, outside of “Bonfire at Tina’s.” For as much as I do like the various skits that function as commercials (as if listening to an old radio show), they do feel like they take away from maybe one or two more full-bodied moments that could have been included instead to offer even more insights into these characters. But this is also a collaborative effort that stems from a lot of love and passion behind the names involved and sticks the landing wonderfully as is. It’s one thing to play a game in Nashville – it’s another to create your own town where the rules are heavily warped in the right way, the love is all-encompassing, and where weirder is just plain better. We don’t get many releases like this, but that’s what makes this stay in Lindeville all the more worth cherishing.

  • Favorite tracks: “The Girl in the Picture,” “Play Ball,” “If These Dogs Could Talk,” “Gospel Night at the Strip Club,” “When Will I Be Loved,” “Bonfire at Tina’s,” “Lindeville”
  • Least favorite track, by a lot: “Jesus Jenny”

Buy or stream the album.

One thought on “Album Discussion: ‘Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville’

  1. I loved this album more than I expected – I think Bonfire at Tina’s could be a radio single (maybe in another era). It honestly reminds me of The Killers 2021 album Pressure Machine. That album was basically a concept/tribute album to Nephi, UT with spoken word interludes from real life residents between songs. You should definitely check it out if you haven’t.

    Liked by 1 person

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