Song Review: Ashley McBryde, “Girl Goin’ Nowhere”

Is a song about going nowhere what Ashley McBryde needs to finally get somewhere?

From a critical perspective, Ashley McBryde is doing quite well for herself: Her latest album Girl Going Nowhere has been nominated for a Grammy award, and the title track even earned a spot on Barack Obama’s “favorite song list” of 2018. For some inexplicable reason, however, country radio simply refuses to have anything to do with her: “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega” stalled out at #30, and her follow-up single “Radioland” didn’t make the airplay chart at all. Now, McBryde and her team are hoping the sentiments of the 44th President are widely-shared, as they have released “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” to kick off 2019. The song is a testament to the power of perseverance and positive thinking, with a strong message to never let anyone dissuade you from your dreams. In other words, it’s a well-written, well-executed track that stands out from anything else you’ll hear on the radio today.

If I have any problem with this song, it’s with the production, which takes a slight step backwards from “Radioland.” However, it’s not the instruments who shoulder the blame: The acoustic guitars give the song a good melodic foundation, the electric guitars and drums provide some texture and atmosphere, and the restrained, upbeat vibe of the mix keeps the focus on the writing (where it should be) while reinforcing the positive message of the song in the face of the narrator’s detractors. Unfortunately, calling this mix “restrained” is the understatement of the year, as the volume balance is substantially out of whack here. McBryde’s vocals are so loud compared to the production that the listener is forced to turn the song way up to hear the instruments and risk the vocals blowing out their eardrums, or turn it way down and not hear the instruments at all (the acoustic guitar is the biggest loser here: At lower volumes, it sounds like McBryde is performing the first verse acapella). Besides that, however, it’s a tolerable mix that suits the tone of the song well.

I have to say, I’m really impressed with McBryde’s vocals on this track. Neither her range and flow are really tested here, but it’s how she delivers her lines that makes this song so interesting. With the verses full of hometown doubters and wannabe coattail-riders, there are a ton of opportunities for the narrator to give in to the dark side and inject a lot of snark and bitterness into their delivery. McBryde, however, comes across as universally positive, almost thankful for all the negative comments, declaring that it was that skepticism and disrespect that pushed her to achieve her goals. More impressively, she’s so convincing in her delivery that the listener truly believes that she harbors no ill will towards her former colleagues, even as said colleagues come across as petty and mean-spirited. McBryde took a similar look-on-the-bright-side approach on “A Little Dive Bar In Dahlonega,” and just like her 2017 single, her incredible charisma takes a solid song and elevates it even further.

Lyrically, the song focuses on all the doubting remarks made by the people around the narrator back in the day (and even a few closer to the present), juxtaposing their negative comments with their large crowds and venues the narrator plays now. There aren’t a lot a songs driving in this lane, as the closest comparison I could find is Buddy Jewell’s “I Wanna Thank Everyone,” although it was an album cut that incorporated a lot of the snark that McBryde eschews. Instead, the narrator presents a much more positive message: Stick to your guns, chase your dreams, and not only should you ignore the haters, but you shouldn’t hate them either. That last bit is much easier said than done, because much like with Octopath Traveler, I’m very impressed by the song’s villain design: The doubters go from “She’ll never go anywhere” to “Oh yeah, I totally knew that famous person before she made it big” (while still saying she’ll “crash and burn” eventually), and while the narrator doesn’t seem to be bothered by the duplicity, the audience gets enough details to be annoyed by it, making McBryde’s taking of the high road even more laudable. Overall, it’s a distinct, positive piece of writing that everyone can take something away from.

Jason Isbell once said that “I do think there’s some kinds of art that make you a better person,” and I’d argue that “Girl Goin’ Nowhere” is exactly that kind of art. While I’m not completely thrilled with the sound, Ashley McBryde is in top form with both the pen and the mic, telling the world “Don’t get mad, don’t get discouraged, and don’t ever give up.” It’s a lesson she’ll need to keep reminding herself of in the face of country radio’s persistent stonewalling, but the genre won’t be able to keep her off the airwaves forever, and we’ll all be better off when they finally give her a chance.

Rating: 8/10. Definitely check this one out.