It's not easy to make a living in the music business, and Mammoth Spring native Ashley McBryde knows this all too well. Long before she became a Grammy-nominated member of the Grand Ole Opry with a string of well-received records for Warner Music Nashville and millions of streams for songs like "Girl Going Nowhere," "One Night Standards," and "A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," she was touring in a pickup, sleeping on couches and playing at whatever venue would have her.
McBryde, who will perform Oct. 15 at Robinson Center in Little Rock, sings about those days and what it takes to keep the dream alive on "Made for This," the first track from "The Devil I Know," her new album that came out today. The track is an absolute banger that opens up sort of like something from "Freedom"-era Neil Young before blasting into an arena-shaking, country-rock anthem. It's also an apt leadoff track for the album, which finds McBryde -- who shares songwriting credit on each of the album's 11 songs -- celebrating dive bars and hard living; lamenting lost loves and morning-after regrets and sharing homespun wisdom.
The sound is firmly country with a good dose of Southern rock; the attitude is all McBryde -- tattooed, resilient, determined and smart. Her songs are thoughtful and inclusive, even when she's singing about the alcoholic barflies on the bittersweet, John Prine-ish "6th of October," which closes the record.
"Light on in the Kitchen," one of the album's best tracks, is an ode to a wise mom's loving advice -- "Pray for those who don't have a prayer," "When you make friends always be colorblind," "Never back up farther than you have to" -- that McBryde relays with an honesty and sincerity that somehow doesn't sound treacly.
The title cut, with its powerful chorus, is about a person's stubborn insistence on traveling a path toward destruction and sticking with it if only because of its familiarity. It's one of those songs that fans will be singing along to at the top of their lungs when they're alone in the car. The track was released as a single in April and former President Barack Obama included it in his 2023 Summer Playlist.
On the crushing "Learned to Lie" McBryde sings about someone who has grown up watching adults deceive each other and is now part of that vicious circle. Another ballad, "Single at the Same Time," describes the ache that exists between two people who are fated to be nothing more than friends.
"Blackout Betty" is a swampy rager that was left over from sessions for her 2022 concept album, "Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville," in which she battles with her alter ego, the hard-living title character. "Cool Little Bars," a loose, acoustic jam, revisits territory she covered in "Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega," this time paying tribute to janky joints with jukeboxes and regulars playing dominoes amid the nonstop sprawl of national chains and shiny new condos.
One can imagine McBryde in one of those cool little bars, laughing, joking, raising a little hell and gathering stories for her songs.