Song Review: Ashley McBryde, “Radioland”

Luke Combs: Dude, my new origin story is lit!
Ashley McBryde: Hold my beer…

I got some good vibes from McBryde when she shot out of the gate with “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” last year, but *sigh* country radio predictably barely gave her the time of day, and she had to settle for a measly #30 peak on Billboard’s airplay chart. In response, McBryde shrugged, declared “Fine, I’ll release something even better,” and dropped “Radioland” as the second single from her Girl Goin’ Nowhere album. It’s a simple-but-high-energy track that discusses the impact of music on McBryde’s upbringing, and it’s dripping with enough charisma that I’m starting to think that despite my previous comparison of Combs to Garth Brooks, McBryde may actually be a better version of Combs.

The arrangement here is surprisingly simple (in fact, it may be too simple at times), but it punches far above its weight class and generates a lot of energy and momentum. While it may be yet another guitar-and-drum mix at its core, it’s got a lot rawer, rougher feel to it that most of the polished production coming out of Nashville these days (I’d compare it favorably to Miranda Lambert’s “Kerosene”). My only complaint with the mix lies with the electric guitar that drives the melody: While it does a great job pushing the tempo and creating a ton of positive energy, the riffs used are inexplicably basic and boring (even the solo is unimpressive), and they make the song feel a lot more monotonic than it really should. What the mix lacks in creativity, however, it makes up for in sheer momentum, and the bright guitars and in-your-face drums never stop pushing the song forward and reinforcing the good vibes that the radio brings. It’s not going to win anyone in the band a “Musician of the Year” award, but I have to admit, it’s catchy as heck.

As much as I hate the word “authenticity” (it’s become a buzzword in country music, and one that’s often thrown in the face of perceived posers), it’s the word that always pops into my head whenever I hear McBryde’s singles. There’s not a lot to talk about in terms of range or flow here (they’re fine, and that jump into her upper range on the “Jack & Duane” line deserves special mention), but it’s that genuine feel of her performance that really takes this song to the next level. In fact, as earnest as I found Combs on “She Got The Best Of Me,” I found McBryde to be even more believable, and she forges a strong connection with her audience as she takes them along on her trip to “Radioland.” She’s got a real knack for relating to other people, and in a just world, she’d be going to a lot more places then “nowhere.”

As shown by “She Got The Best Of Me” just last week, musical origin stories are not the most novel topic in the world. “Radioland,” however, covers a longer time frame than Combs’s track did, and it does so with much more vivid and detailed (albeit clichéd) imagery, especially in the opening verse:

Mama kept oldies playing in the kitchen
Turned up just a little too loud
Daddy was a rockstar riding on a tractor
Listening to Townes Van Zandt
I was 5 years old with a hairbrush microphone
Growing up in Radioland

Unlike “She Got The Best Of Me,” which seemed to keep the listener at a slight distance for the action, “Radioland” plops you down right in the middle of its rustic scenery, and really allows you to view things from the narrator’s point of view. (It’s also worth noting how McBryde expertly co-opts phrases traditionally used by male singers—when was the last time you heard a female artist talk about how she “got to first base?”) Things admittedly get a bit more generic as the song goes along, but McBryde’s delivery and the jubilant feel of the production are enough to carry the day from here.

Is “Radioland” coming to hit the charts like a freight train and rise to the No. 1 slot? I doubt it—the genre’s allergy to female singers and free sprits will likely doom this to the same mediocre fate as “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega.” Despite that, those good vibes I got from Ashley McBryde last year haven’t gone anywhere, and if the radio would actually give her some time in the spotlight, a song like this could really take off and flourish. Take my advice and reserve your seat on the McBryde hype train now, because this could be the start of something really special.

Rating: 7/10. Do yourself a favor and give this song a listen.