Ashley McBryde has a little game she sometimes plays when she’s out at a bar and there’s music in the background.
“Let’s say [the Chicks’] ‘Goodbye Earl’ or something is on, and I’ll go, ‘OK, who wrote it? I’ll buy you a beer,’” she says. “They’re like, ‘I don’t know.’ I’m like, ‘Dennis Linde!’”
More from Rolling Stone
Longtime fans of country music will recognize Linde’s name — the songwriter, who died in 2006, amassed an enviable run of popular hits in his career. In addition to the beloved Chicks’ song, there’s Mark Chesnutt’s “Bubba Shot the Jukebox,” Joe Diffie’s “John Deere Green,” and Garth Brooks’ “Callin’ Baton Rouge.” Oh, and lest we forget, he also wrote “Burning Love,” the 1972 Elvis Presley hit.
McBryde was aware of Linde’s name, but her manager explained to her how the Earl named in “Queen of My Double Wide Trailer” (the Sammy Kershaw hit) was actually the same person who meets his demise in “Goodbye Earl.” As a creative exercise, Linde had drawn a map of a fictional small town and was writing songs about the people he imagined living there. McBryde started to dig deeper into his work and was blown away.
“I’m like, this guy was a genius, an absolute genius,” she says.
Linde’s creative spirit fills Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville, a wildly inventive concept album about a group of people all living in a little town just trying to get by — working, drinking, trying, failing, cheating, finding community. McBryde and her collaborators Nicolette Hayford, Aaron Raitiere, Brandy Clark, Connie Harrington, and Benjy Davis stayed together in Tennessee, gathered around a kitchen table and drank tequila while they wrote whatever ideas pleased them.
They ended up doing some world building, playing on the fact that McBryde’s catalog already has songs like “Living Next to Leroy” and “Shut Up Sheila” that reference specific people. Those people now get to reside in Lindeville, along with a whole host of individuals. Leroy’s back, along with folks named Pete, Brenda, Jenny, Caroline, Marvin, and Tina. They’re messy and complicated, not flat sketches — the kind of place into which McBryde could insert her own life.
“We recognized we did have characters and expanded on that,” McBryde says. “It feels like a part of an awesome tradition that we get to tip our hats to.”
Unlike McBryde’s previous records Girl Going Nowhere and Never Will, she shares the spotlight as a lead vocalist on Lindeville, which was produced by John Osborne of Brothers Osborne (rather than McBryde’s usual collaborator Jay Joyce). Each voice on the album represents another resident of Lindeville. There’s “Jesus, Jenny,” delivered with rakish charm and concern by Raitiere, “Play Ball” sung by Brothers Osborne, and “If These Dogs Could Talk” with a performance by Clark. Benjy Davis does a surprisingly moving recitation in “Gospel Night at the Strip Club,” praising a Jesus who “loves the drunkards and the whores and the queers.”
There are even interstitial commercials for places like Ronnie’s Pawn Shop and Forkem Funeral Home, little 30-second snippets that are as tuneful as they are hilarious. It’s like being tuned in to a local radio station.
Sometimes these songs are coming from a space where reality and fiction have blurred together.
“We reference Betty. And Betty is me when I’ve partied too hard. My nickname is ‘Black Out Betty.’ I earned it, there it is,” she says. “We would joke about [Hayford] being Pillbox Patti. And lo and behold, Nicolette finally becomes her full self when she accepts that she’s Pillbox Patti.”
Hayford as Pillbox Patti sings “Girl in the Picture,” a haunting story about a woman from a prize-winning photo who goes missing. “She just sat and laughed, like the bubbles in her glass/Disappearing like her happy ever after,” Pillbox Patti sings. It’s one of those songs that sticks with you — so rich with detail that it’s impossible not to wonder what happened to this person, even if she’s not real. That feeling was a guiding force as the group was writing.
“You care about the people who live there,” Pillbox Patti says. “You’re interested in what’s going on in their house, what they’re doing at night, who they’re talking to, and who they’re sleeping with. You start from a place of genuine curiosity — by nature we’re like that anyway — it’s like a built-in blueprint.”
Pillbox Patti extends the idea on her upcoming album Florida (out Oct. 14), drawing on experiences from the “shitty tiny town” where she grew up. McBryde’s name figures heavily among the songwriting credits.
“[It’s] sonically different, but the integrity is the same,” she says. “The honesty and the sense of humor, the rawness of it. That’s something all of us naturally do as writers, that’s why that group works.”
On the rumbling “Eat, Pray, Drugs,” Pillbox Patti gazes into the abyss for a coolly detached account of small-town opioid abuse, while the heartbreaking “Valentine’s Day” chronicles a trip to get an abortion. The groove-driven, half-rapped “Suwanee” paints a vivid portrait of Florida life with its “high-school mothers” and “gas-station gizzards,” an anthem of pride for people who are always wearing a “Mickey Mouse t-shirt, [but] ain’t never been.” Hip-hop beats and production underpin many of the songs, like Lana Del Ray if she had spent time baking in the Jacksonville sun.
Lindeville wraps up with a killer one-two punch. “Bonfire at Tina’s,” arguably the album’s centerpiece, features a group of women (voiced by McBryde, Pillbox Patti, Clark, and Caylee Hammack) who normally don’t get along but come together to support one of their own. They all get a turn to sing and turn whatever’s bothering them into ash — “Got cheated on, light it up/Don’t get paid enough, light it up,” they sing. It’s a cathartic experience guaranteed to hoist lighters in the air when performed live.
“We know how to be catty,” McBryde says. “It just comes as natural as anything else to us. But when one of us gets screwed over, when you piss one of us off, women that don’t get along will get together to hate a motherfucker.”
She follows that with the title track, an acoustic number set at nightfall when everyone in town has turned in. “Tonight I wish I could just stand still/’Cause look at those stars over Lindeville,” McBryde sings, offering a perspective from the town’s vigilant clock tower. It’s a lovely benediction for this place and its unresolved conflicts, a gentle reminder that we’re all a little messy and deserve a little grace as well.
“We get to reference the people we are and the characters we can be and then also the people, that you’ve definitely encountered in the city or the town you live in,” McBryde says. “It doesn’t matter if you were from Seattle or Starke, Florida, or the Ozark Mountains, you know this one woman that if her husband cheated on her, she would absolutely throw that bitch through a table.” One can only imagine that Dennis Linde would approve.
Best of Rolling Stone