Album Review: Ashley Monroe — Like a Rose

Karlie Justus Marlowe | March 7th, 2013

ashleymonroelikearoseEvery now and again, an artist emerges into the spotlight with a heavy, quiet air of importance hanging about him or her. They’re not necessarily the best singers, the best looking or the most favored by radio formats du jour, but in the genre of country music, they’re almost always weighed down by pockets and pockets full of songs.

And just as it’s easy to point to earmarked examples like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson and Loretta Lynn, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson, it’s exciting to watch them appear in real time, in front of the ultimate real-time generation.

Joining Taylor Swift, Ashley Monroe seems poised to be the second female of this generation’s small group to usher in change and growth to a genre that values its careful patterns. A bold statement for a sorta-kinda debut solo album? Perhaps, but Monroe’s Like a Rose feels less like an introduction and more like a culmination of years of singing and songwriting collaborations – and an intersection for fans both new (2011’s bluntly hillbilly Pistol Annies record brought to mainstream attention by gal pal Miranda Lambert) and old (2009’s ill-fated, digital-only Satisfied).

While this new wisp of an album — weighing in at just 9 co-written tracks, even after one last-minute addition  — is rounded out by intensely personal details, it’s Monroe’s all-star teardrop of a voice that does the heavy lifting. As she stretches out each painful syllable of “But this world can cut a heart so deeply” on “The Morning After,” all the autobiographical dips and dives laid out in the album’s title track seem painfully, effortlessly exposed.

It’s not all Southern gothic: Monroe successfully does humor both dark (“I know the Bible says that you’re supposed to wait / But I’m a dollar short and two weeks late” on “Two Weeks Late”) and last-ditch-effort (“Weed Instead of Roses’” provides a helpful solution to the marital rut in Alan Jackson’s “Nothing Left To Do”), despite sorely whiffing with Blake Shelton on “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter),” written with Vince Gill, who produced the album with Justin Niebank. The duet’s storyline seems woefully underdeveloped and hardly worthy of its “fuller”/”shorter” lyrical barbs.

The standout moment on Like a Rose lives near its end, on the Keith Whitley-worthy play on words “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind.” Atop comforting fiddle and steel guitar, Monroe matter-of-factly accepts “Anything worth trying, I’ve already tried / Anything worth saving has already died / Loving you baby’s been one long, hard ride.” It’s a gorgeous moment that, all at once, encapsulates the singer’s personal journey up until this point and offers into evidence the potential future impact of Like a Rose.

4.5 Stars

Preview or purchase Like a Rose

  1. Rick
    March 7, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    I plan on buying a copy just to support Ashley and the label for standing behind her on this project. The big question is whether the fans of the Pistol Annies, who are mostly Miranda Lambert fans coming along for the ride, will support this album. Without any radio singles in the Top 20 (or even on the charts) to gain Ashley some mass market attention, I’m afraid this album will sell in very low volumes. Country music blogs just don’t drive album sales to any appreciable degree.

    I’ve been collecting Ashley demo tracks since the first advance copies of her “Satisfied” album hit eBay back around 2006. “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind” is a song that’s been around for years and I’m glad it made it onto this album. Hey, where is “Has Anybody Ever Told You”?

    I agree about the Porter/Dolly song being lightweight fluff. The inclusion of only 9 songs when Ashley has a large catalog of songs she’s written or co-written is ridiculous! The fact “Used” was on her first album makes it even tougher.

    Ashley’s version of her co-write “It’s Not You, It’s Me” is even better than the Little Willies/Norah Jones version and should have been included. Her demo version of “Alone Together Tonight” is also a killer. Oh well, the list could go on and on but what can you do?

  2. Scooter
    March 8, 2013 at 1:01 am

    I liked “satisfied” and this album. I think she has enormous talent as a writer but I also have trouble seeing how country radio will latch on to this album.

  3. Ben Foster
    March 8, 2013 at 11:18 am

    I would be very surprised if radio gave this album any attention, but since the Pistol Annies project seems to have raised Monroe’s profile a bit, I think the album stands a decent chance of succeeding without radio support. Radio has already bitten on Kacey Musgraves (for now, at least), and I doubt that the club will admit two intelligent female singer-songwriters at one time.

    Very fine review, Karlie. As good as the songs are, it’s still Monroe’s voice that really sells them for me. Her voice does have a very distinct “teardrop” quality to it. I also loved the wordplay on “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind,” and while I thought “You Ain’t Dolly (and You Ain’t Porter)” was cute, it does seem to pale somewhat in comparison to the rest of the album.

  4. Jim Malec
    April 28, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I don’t understand this album. How is this anything other than a weaker and sloppier version of Satisfied? And I have to be honest, “You Ain’t Porter” made me want to rip my own ears off. Who on earth convinced these two very talented artists–at least one of which has a reputation for excellent judgment in song selection–to record that?

    I really love Ashley, and wish her the best of luck with this record. I hope it’s what she wanted to record and release. That said, I personally think it falls short of Satisfied in every conceivable way.

    And since I’m sure at least one person who comments here regularly (Hello, old friend!) is going to question why I’m raising these points now: I just happened to catch Ashley on A Prairie Home Companion this weekend ;-)

  5. Jon
    April 29, 2013 at 4:42 am

    “I really love Ashley…”

    That’s a Ted Bundy kind of love, ain’t it?

  6. Leeann Ward
    April 29, 2013 at 8:34 am

    I disagree with Jim on this, for the most part (though I think the Shelton duet falls short of the Yoakum duet from the first album), but I definitely don’t get your jab, Jon.

  7. bob
    April 29, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I bought this album on i-Tunes and I’m not embarrassed to admit that the songs I’ve played the most are “Weed Instead of Roses” and “You Ain’t Dolly”. They sound great. They’re fun songs.

    Re the latter song, I do have a weakness for duets, either the kind in which the artists alternate verses or this one where they trade lines back and forth.

    I’ve been reading some of the other album reviews and at least one reviewer had a positive comment. OH at MKOC called the Dolly song “a wittily tongue-in-cheek duet with Blake Shelton with an ultra-traditional feel musically. It’s the best thing Blake has done in years …” I can agree with that last line rather than the reviewer who called Blake “woefully overmatched”.

  8. Jon
    April 30, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    Sorry, Leeann, I’ll try to be a little clearer: claiming that one “really loves” an artist while dishing out terms like “weak” and “sloppy” and talking about how her music makes one want to rip one’s ears out suggests that the claimant practices a pretty toxic kind of love. I’ll bet that Miss Monroe didn’t feel much love at all in that post.

  9. BRUCE
    April 30, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    You can certainly “really love” an artist and yet be disappointed with a particular body of their work. I see no double-speak in that. Really loving an artist does not mean one has to automatically love all their work.

  10. Jon
    May 1, 2013 at 3:38 am

    The amount of imagination required to read “made me want to rip my ears off” as nothing more than “I’m disappointed” is approximately equal to that required to read “really loving an artist means one has to automatically love all their work” into my post, which – of course – said nothing of the sort. Seems like that degree of inventiveness could be put to better use elsewhere.

  11. BRUCE
    May 1, 2013 at 5:45 am

    No. Right here is fine. I didn’t know we all had to be English majors to post our comments. Regardless, my post has merit. At least for me.

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