“A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”
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.