Single Review: Ashley McBryde, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”

“A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”
Ashley McBryde

Written by Ashley McBryde, Nicolette Hanford, and Jesse Rice

Let’s just dispense with the naive optimism that, even with Warner Brothers backing it, Ashley McBryde’s “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” will make any substantial inroads at country radio, give-or-take a possible selection for iHeartMedia’s problematic “On The Verge” promotion.

Because “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” McBryde’s winning debut single, is a traditional-leaning mid-tempo track that finds a glimmer of optimism in the well-drawn problems of adult characters. Much like Midland’s breakthrough hit, “Drinkin’ Problem,” the single is a throwback to the pop-country aesthetic of the early 90s: The pop songcraft is impeccable, while the production is grounded in identifiable country instrumentation, and the lyrics are centered around keenly observed details expressed in clever turns-of-phrase. A generation ago, this is the kind of song Pam Tillis or Suzy Bogguss would have had cut.

But, unlike Midland, McBryde has to overcome country radio’s gender bias, which is raging as strongly as ever two years post-#SaladGate. It’s a shame, then, because “Dahlonega” announces McBryde as a major talent, possessed of a soulful voice and a hardscrabble POV.

The song’s chorus is a marvel of construction– it takes legitimate skill to get the name “Dahlonega” to into a line without butchering the natural meter of the language– as McBryde sings of the surprising turns a life can take toward even the smallest of redemptions. “Here’s to the break-ups that didn’t break us / The break-down, wrong turn that takes you / To a little dive bar in Dahlonega / Hear a song from a band that saves you… Making-the-best-of-a-worst-day kind of night.”

The melody and arrangement lift as McBryde’s hopefulness grows, but they never quite soar. But this isn’t that kind of song: “Dahlonega” isn’t an anthem so much as a hymn. McBryde’s performance is nothing short of joyful in the final a capella chorus, as she attempts to bring a few moments of happiness to those down on their luck. As dire as country radio has been in 2017, that’s a message most programming directors could stand to hear. As ever, we’ll keep our expectations low but our fingers crossed that McBryde finds the audience her talent deserves.

Grade: A

6 Comments

  1. I heard this gal last week on NPR’s “World Cafe” — I’d say the Suzy Bogguss and (especially) Pam Tillis comparisons are apt. Lovely tune, evocative lyrics. :)

  2. Very good song. Probably won’t even make the top 40. Cam had a hit w “Burning House” 2 years ago but no success since. Candi Carpenter’s great song “Burn the Bed” went nowhere and Kree Harrison’s great album “This Old Thing” hasn’t produced any hit singles. As you say, the gender bias is raging strongly as ever. I don’t understand it. But then I don’t understand how anyone could be against equal pay for women.

  3. I just listened to this one recently, and it’s pretty good! As mentioned, it does sound like something one of the 90’s female artists would’ve put out. I really hope it will somehow catch on, but Warner Brothers especially can’t seem to get a hit from any female on their roster lately. It’s just depressing to look at the charts today. These days, I find myself particularly longing for the late 90’s and early 00’s when there were so many female artists getting played and having success.

  4. I like the sentiment, love the vocal.

    …but, god dang, am I the only one that thinks this sounds EXACTLY like “Talladega” by Eric Church? Same tempo, same key, same chord progression, same instrumentation…

    I like “Talladega” better, I’m afraid.

  5. @SRM,

    I can definitely hear the similarities between this and “Talladega.” I actually think this song has a stronger melody than does Church’s song, though. They’re both terrific songs!

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