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Singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde gives voice to an imaginary town on 'Lindeville'

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Country singer-songwriter Ashley McBryde has a new album called "Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville." It's a concept album featuring songs about the various inhabitants of a small rural town. The place is named after the songwriter Dennis Linde, best known for writing Elvis Presley's 1972 hit, "Burning Love." Rock critic Ken Tucker says McBryde's creation of "Lindeville" contains a lot of passionate music with novelistic details.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BRENDA PUT YOUR BRA ON")

ASHLEY MCBRYDE: (Singing) Well, did you hear that? There went the good dishes. I hope they don't knock out the cable. Ole Suntan City won't look quite as pretty when Tina puts that ass through a table. Brenda, put your bra on. There's trouble next door. Grab a pack of cigarettes, and meet me on the porch. Marvin baby mama put that whore on the floor. Brenda, put your bra on, bra on, bra on. Brenda, put your bra on, bra on, bra on. Put it on.

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: Ashley McBryde wastes no time plunging you into one of the vividly chaotic scenarios that fill out the trailer park southern universe in "Ashley McBryde Presents: Lindeville." McBryde was inspired by something she read about songwriter and performer Dennis Linde, who died in 2006. He once drew a map of an imaginary town intending to write songs about its inhabitants. McBryde took that idea and gathered up some musician friends. They locked themselves away in a Tennessee cabin, drank, she says, a lot of tequila, and came up with collaborations and characters that require a variety of voices. McBryde doesn't even sing lead vocals on the majority of the tracks. Here, for example, is the album's producer, John Osborne of The Brothers Osborne, talking about a Vietnam vet named Pete who takes care of the grass in Dennis Linde park.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PLAY BALL")

JOHN OSBORNE: (Singing) Pete chalks the ballfields down at Dennis Linde park, turns the sprinklers on at sun-up and the lights on after dark. If you got time to talk, he'll give you his two cents. The grass is always greener on his side of the fence, yeah. He lost his wife to cancer and a thumb in Vietnam. Jokes he used to be a hitchhiker, but not for very long. He runs off the gophers in a golf cart full of dents. And the grass is always greener, 'cause he makes sure it is, yeah.

TUCKER: The town of Lindeville is populated by folks just scraping by - supermarket or gas station workers who take second jobs at the Dandelion Diner or the local strip club. There's a song about answering a personal ad in the Lindeville Gazette. Life is grim, except when it's a hoot. And loyalty is prized above all, as on this song about female solidarity called "Bonfire At Tina's."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BONFIRE AT TINA'S")

MCBRYDE: (Singing) Small town women ain't built to get along, But you burn one, boy, you burn us all. We'll be here drinking 'til the smoke is gone. You don't feel pretty. Light it up. You've been lonely. Light it up. He's so damn lazy. Light it up. My step-kids hate me. Light it up. And when it's gone to ashes, we'll be laughing, fall down drunk. If we fall down on our asses, hell, we'll pick each other up. Small town women...

TUCKER: The Arkansas-born McBryde is generous and sympathetic, never condescending, to all the citizens of this imaginary town. Her worldbuilding includes a three-legged beagle who's befriended by a meth addict named Leroy in the song. If These Dogs Could Talk. The song is performed by singer-songwriter Brandy Clark.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IF THESE DOGS COULD TALK")

BRANDY CLARK: (Singing) There's a brown mutt named Patience, she's always waiting For scraps outside of the diner. Leroy is serving. One thing's for certain. A hamburger steak always finds her. He may be a meth head who smokes up his paycheck, but everyone needs a best friend. She may be blind, but she sees him just fine and don't care what they say about him. If these dogs could talk, they'd sure tell on you. We're all lucky barking is all they can do. They dig up your secrets. They know all your trash. The tales they could tell, the tongues they could wag. God knows what they'd say, might ruin your day if these dogs could talk.

TUCKER: To be sure, Ashley McBryde had me hooked before she even composed a word about Lindeville since here's how much of a Dennis Linde fan I am - I put his 1978 album "Under The Eye" on my 10-best list that year, and in reviewing it for The Village Voice, the way I described Linde can also describe McBryde and her project as, quote, "artists laboring in isolation, devising complex ways to present precise little songs of innocence and experience" - to which in 2022, I would add, welcome to Lindeville.

DAVIES: Ken Tucker reviewed "Ashley McBryde Presents Lindeville." On tomorrow's show, we'll listen to our interview with science writer Ed Yong about the hidden world around us - the sights, smells, tastes, sounds, vibrations and magnetic fields that are imperceptible to humans, but are perceived by various animals, birds, fish and insects. His book is "An Immense World." I hope you can join us. For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.