Known mostly to country music fans as one-third of the all girl outlaw troupe Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe heads solo this time around with her new project, Like A Rose. Produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank (LeAnn Rimes, Vince’s Guitar Slinger), Like A Rose laces stirring traditional country with vivid storytelling and Ashley’s unforgettable voice to create a timeless collection.
She’s got a Tennessee mountain point of view, is how Miranda Lambert describes Ashley on the Pistol Annies’ rollicking single, “Takin’ Pills.” And on Like A Rose, available March 5, that point of view comes across in deeply personal ways. Ashley co-wrote all nine of the songs on the album, and many strike an autobiographical tone. With pristine acoustic steel strings and a meandering rhythm, the title track “Like A Rose” (co-written with Guy Clark) opens the album with the despondent line, I was only thirteen when Daddy died. Ashley goes on to sing of bus tickets and lonely diners, but most importantly, escaping the hard knock life that seemed destined to be. With a sweet, yet ever guarded delivery, Ashley’s voice is rich with the emotional consequences of the song.
Consequence can be full of tough realities, and Ashley isn’t afraid to address them here. The irresistible sensuality of “You Got Me” (co-written with Karen Fairchild of Little Big Town), an Appalachian-tinged song of helpless desire, is full of danger as she sings, You’re gettin’ good at makin’ me feel nothin’ while I’m hurting everyone. On the thumping Honky Tonk song, “Two Weeks Late,” Ashley unmercifully links being unwed and pregnant with being late on the rent. I’m a dollar short and two weeks late, she sings with the blunt force of truth.
However, as on the title track “Like A Rose,” the silver lining of experience can turn out to be wisdom that makes us who we are today. Originally heard on Ashley’s 2007, iTunes-only debut, Satisfied, “Used” bears the scars with sobering vulnerability as she navigates a deeper meaning. Shuffling to an emotive fiddle and downtrodden bass line, Ashley sings, I know I’m not some brand new dress hanging there perfectly pressed that never has been worn…but in the end I’ll be worth a whole lot more used, with an intimate sensitivity and sound similar to Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.”
Ashley’s classic country voice sounds as if it got lost in time, originally heard on WSM in the heyday of legends like Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn, and just now reaching us today. While the duet with Blake Shelton, “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter)” offers a playful back and forth set down at the local karaoke bar, other songs draw on the biting lonesomeness so ingrained in the genre. The slow, hopeless, “She’s Driving Me Out Of Your Mind,” details a losing battle with a staunchly traditional sound while her stinging confessional, “Morning After,” drowns in loneliness with lines like, I lost everything that mattered and I thought I couldn’t get any sadder / but nothin’ hits, nothin’ hurts, like the morning after, as Vince offers tender harmonies.
Thematically, Like A Rose is only concerned with one thing; truth. The raucous, “Weed Instead of Roses,” goes against all sorts of modern Music Row rules starting with the title and heading right on through to details of a housewife looking to really spice things up. However, Ashley is completely unapologetic as the subjects she tackles all relate back to the human condition. Even the outlaw getaway, “Monroe Suede,” though rooted in fantasy, is built from a construct of leaving it all behind. Ashley leaves nothing behind on Like A Rose, as she delivers a captivating collection that sets her apart with a truth you can feel.
Key Tracks – “Like A Rose,” “Two Weeks Late,” “Used,” “She’s Driving Me Out Of Your Mind”