Album Review: Ashley Monroe — Like a Rose
Every 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.
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