Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville
What better way to end this series than with an album that gathers together some of the best talents of this generation?
Lindeville is an ambitious concept album orchestrated by Ashley McBryde. She co-wrote nearly all of the tracks with Brandy Clark, Benjy Davis, Connie Harrington, Nicolette Hayford, and Aaron Raitiere. John Osborne of Brothers Osborne serves as the producer, and the duo joins Caylee Hammack and the songwriters as vocal performers on various tracks. The use the framework of a town named after a legendary country music figure, with songs that recall his idiosyncratic approach to character development.
Dennis Linde is best known as the Nashville-based songwriter who penned hits like “Goodbye Earl,” “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” and “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer,” as well as the Elvis Presley classic, “Burning Love.” Less known about him is that he wrote two of the songs for Grease 2: the Michelle Pfeiffer showcase “Cool Rider” and the uproariously filthy “Reproduction.”
The subversive spirit of the latter Grease 2 track is alive and well in the opening track, “Brenda Put Your Bra On,” which would have the highest percentage of bleeped words in history if it was ever played on country radio. Once the shock value wears off, the song remains compelling because it introduces characters that are so entertaining that you find yourself wishing you could be smoking on the front porch with them. This conversational style is present on the album’s strongest moments, peaking with “Bonfire at Tina’s,” which gathers women together again in solidarity, drawing a contrast to the “let’s watch these girls fight” perspective of the album opener.
Brandy Clark toyed with many of these same themes on her albums, and so many of her songs could be dropped into this collection and sound perfectly in place. She takes lead vocal duties on “If Dogs Could Talk,” which starts as a rundown of the small town gossip that dogs could reveal, but takes a poignant turn in the second verse, as a blind dog bonds with a meth addict outside the town diner. Another highlight is the Brothers Osborne-led “Play Ball,” which tells the story of the ballfield groundskeeper who has been as much a caretaker to the children playing on the field as he’s been to the grass and the bleachers.
“The Girl in the Picture” is evocative and mysterious, leaving more questions than answers about the girl who peaked in life by appearing in a blue ribbon-winning photo at a county fair. “Gospel Night at the Strip Club” is a fascinating exploration of small town faith, and implicitly makes the case for southern Christians to put the Christ back into Christianity through embracing the marginalized and the ostracized.
A panoramic view of the town at nighttime makes for a touching closing track, though I think it would’ve worked even better as an album opener, with Brenda being jolted out of slumber right afterward. Lindeville has an engaging concept, but there are some choices that makes it a bit less than the sum of its parts. The three radio jingles are gratuitous. Catchy as they may be, they don’t add anything to the narrative and reminded me that I was listening to a piece of fiction. Aaron Raitiere can be commended for his songwriting contributions, but his vocal delivery make his two characters – the judgmental born again Christian of “Jesus Jenny” and the philandering husband of “The Missed Connection Section of the Lindeville Gazette” – sound sleazy. And as much as I love a good Linda Ronstadt cover, the “When Will I Be Loved” guitar pull doesn’t make any sense within the context of the album, great as all of the ladies sound on it.
But these are nitpicks that can be easily solved by creative playlisting on your software of choice. Lindeville is home to some of the best songs and performances of 2022, and it’s a testament to the curating talent of Ashley McBryde and the production skills of John Osborne.