Hold on…is this an ode to the downtrodden, hard-working masses that doesn’t feel like pandering garbage? Madam, you have my attention.
Ashley McBryde is an Arkansas native who’s been kicking around Nashville for over a decade, but is only now starting to gain some momentum: She released her first major-label EP last year, and received a high-profile endorsement from Eric Church last April. Now, her team is preparing to release a new non-EP single “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” and while it’s nothing terribly groundbreaking, it’s got a rawness and believability to it that most of the shallow “Here’s to the beer-drinkin’ real country folks!” tracks lack.
The production here has an organic and stripped-back feel, featuring very few instruments and restraining the ones that do appear. The heavy lifting is done mostly by an acoustic guitar, with a spacious electric guitar tossed in to fill time between the lyrics and an organ providing some atmosphere in the background. The drums are real, sure, but what’s surprisingly is how little they’re actually used: They don’t show up at all until the end of the first chorus, and unlike most modern country songs, they’re not a particularly prominent part of the mix. (The volume balance is tipped a bit too far towards the vocals, which are much more prominent than the sound, but it’s not a major issue.) The tempo is slow but methodical, and mixes with the bright tones of the instruments to create a warm, hopeful vibe that fits the subject matter perfectly. Take note, Miranda Lambert: This is how you create a non-studio feel on a studio track.
Vocally, I would describe McBryde’s voice as very similar to Brandy Clark, but with a dash of Wynonna-esque twang added to it. Her range isn’t tested much, and her flow feels a bit off at points during the song (in fairness, I’d struggle with my flow without a drum keeping time too), but there’s a raw power and earnestness to her voice that makes her believable in the narrator’s role and helps sell the song to her listeners. (It’s even more impressive when you look deeper into the lukewarm writing, which we’ll touch on a bit later.) It’s the sort of charismatic performance that makes you wonder what the heck took so long for someone to put her on the radio.
The song itself is a simple call for people going through times to keep their heads up and make some lemonade out the lemons life is throwing at them. It’s not really a new topic in country music, but at least the writers found some different ways to phrase things: The typical forty-hour hard-working person is “the worker bee that ain’t gettin’ no honey,” while the person escaping a bad relationship is “the bag packed, first love leaver.” Similarly, the song doesn’t explicitly endorse the shallow escapism of, say, Chris Janson’s “Fix A Drink,” but still encourages the listener to have a “making the best of the worst day kind of night.” It’s really a clichéd, platitude-filled song when you dig into it…and yet, the combination of McBryde’s empathetic delivery and the understated production elevates the writing to a point where it connects with listeners in a way I haven’t seen a song do since Alabama’s “Forty Hour Week.”
Overall, “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” is a so-so song that became a decent one through well-executed production and the sheer force of Ashley McBryde’s talent. I’m getting the same good vibes from McBryde that I got from Carly Pearce earlier this year, and I’m very interested in hearing more from this artist.
Rating: 6/10. Give this one a few listens and see what you think.