Grammy award winner Ashley McBryde brought the first European night of her “The Devil I Know” tour to the O2 Guildhall Southampton this past Wednesday, much to the excitement of the local country music fan base.
Ashley is an Arkansas native with several critically acclaimed albums, awards (including the aforementioned Grammy and several from the CMAs), and notably an esteemed member of the Grand Ole Opry. To accompany her on the evening’s event she brought along two very talented support acts in what was a night of honest, down-to-earth (and great) music.
The evening started with Harper O’Neil, a soulful Texan whose time on stage went by all too quickly, however I’m sure we’ll get more time with her in the future as she deservedly builds her popularity.
Performing several tracks from her enthralling “Dark Bar Daisy” album, a personal highlight was the track “Guilty”, a country-tinged nostalgic trip back in time…one you’re sure to play on repeat once you hear it.
Next up on stage was Corey Kent, an artist with an already storied career, having battled through the ups and downs of recent years to come out the other side even more successful. Corey played tracks from across his releases, “Highways” from “23” with its gritty vocals and simple yet catchy acoustic melodies, “Gold” from “21” with its energetic chorus perfect for singing in the car, topped off with his massive Billboard hot 100 & Country Airplay hit “Wild as Her” from “Blacktop”. Again, all too soon Corey was off the stage, the only positive being this meant Ashley herself was next up!
The Guildhall stage was suddenly blacked out, the support band silently wondering on stage as dramatic lightning picked out their silhouettes and the aptly named opening song “Blackout Betty” began to build. And then then the woman of the hour hit the stage and the track erupted into its thunderous rocky glory! An energetic start to the set which got the room on board from minute one
From there the Southampton crowd was treated to a journey through Ashley’s hit-laden back catalogue, one which has rightly (even if only based on this evening’s performance) earned her the previously alluded to awards and nominations from the most esteemed organisations in the Country music…too numerous to list here.
One of the next tracks was “One Night Standards”, with its methodical pace and gradually building sing-a-long verses and chorus being perfect for the venue size.
Then soon after saw the wonderfully playful country-inspired bra-vado of “Brenda put your bra on” (including plenty of on-stage bra twirling!), the tranquil and thoughtful “Single at the same time”, and the upbeat taste of nostalgia that was “Cool little bars”.
Throughout the rest of the set, there were plenty more emotional ups and downs as Ashley performed more of her musical collection.
“Light on in the kitchen”, a calm, charming and uplifting country tune which was one of several pallet cleansing points in the evening, alongside the intimate, thoughtful sounds of “Bible and a .44”
“Martha Devine” with its vengeful and cathartic tale of cheating, accompanied by a more rock-based tone, brought back the attitude. As did the tour title track “The Devil I know”, an amazing mix of all the previously mentioned aspects…the charming acoustic country notes, the nostalgic lyrics, the building melodies heading towards a rocky chorus, all culminating towards a song which would be at home on any road-trip playlist…a personal favourite of mine for sure.
Then before we all knew it, already into the encore, the final track “Bonfire at Tina’s” began, a tune made for a crowd. Uplifting lyrics, designed to sing out loud with your fellow concertgoers, that produced the perfect end to a night thoroughly enjoyed by all in attendance.
Country music hasn’t historically got the attention it deserves this side of the pond, although the upward momentum has been gradually increasing over the last few years. Massively gifted artists like Harper, Corey and especially Ashley, making dedicated time on tours to visit several parts of the UK and Europe, only help perpetuate this. And I can’t think of many more performers better suited to continue this trend than them.
“The Devil I Know” is out now via Warner Music Nashville
Words + Photography by Andrew Roast