The air of defiance in the name Never Will sets expectations for Ashley McBryde's second major-label album, echoing how the title Girl Going Nowhere framed the understanding for the 11 songs on her stellar 2018 debut. Never Will is more of a consolidation than a departure from Girl Going Nowhere -- it has the same blend of heartfelt country and burly rock & roll, and it was also produced by Jay Joyce -- but its sound and attitude are bold and assured, giving it a different vibe; it feels like McBryde knows precisely where she's headed. She's so confident, she ends Never Will with a bizarre flight of funky fancy called "Styrofoam," a clever novelty from Randall Clay. Ending on that whimsical note helps pull the rest of Never Will into perspective, underscoring its aspirations and melancholy moments as well as how McBryde's articulation has sharpened. Sometimes, that precision arrives in the form of roaring guitars: "Shut Up Sheila" builds to a tidal wave of six-strings, while "Voo Doo Doll" marries a nimble country-disco rhythm to grinding riffs. Usually, McBryde personalizes heartland rock and roadhouse country, finding a beating, quivering heart within anthems designed for the open road. Emotions come to the forefront on the quieter moments, whether it's the small-scale aspirations of "Sparrow" or the sorrow of "Stone." Those songs are melancholy grace notes on an album that's otherwise strikingly open-hearted and resilient, proof that McBryde is broadening her horizons while deepening her core humanistic strengths as a writer and performer.
Never Will Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine