Rising country star Ashley Monroe and her co-producer Vince Gill offered a group of Nashville journalists an exclusive sneak preview of her upcoming solo album 'Like a Rose' in Nashville on Monday night (Jan. 14), giving a personal glimpse into the creation of a record that is likely to appear on multiple 2013 critic's picks lists.

Monroe is certainly best known to fans as "Hippie Annie" in the trio Pistol Annies, but she's been in Nashville for more than a decade already. Signed to Sony in 2005, she released two singles -- 'Satisfied' and 'I Don't Want To' (with Ronnie Dunn) -- before getting caught up in the merger between Sony and BMG. She has also written songs for Jason Aldean ('The Truth'), Miranda Lambert ('Heart Like Mine') and Carrie Underwood ('Flat on the Floor').

Monroe co-wrote all of the songs for 'Like a Rose,' which is an instant classic. Written, performed and recorded in a retro-cool style that has more to do with classic country than contemporary pop, the album makes a bold, unapologetic statement that casts Monroe in the role of an empowered-yet-vulnerable female trying to find her way in the world.

'Like a Rose' features gritty tracks like 'Two Weeks Late,' 'Weed Instead of Roses' and 'Morning After' that call to mind a latter-day Loretta Lynn, juxtaposing Monroe's clever sense of humor and against-the-grain lyrical choices with challenging subject matter. Songs like 'Used' and 'You Got Me' create a mix of pathos and hope that has very little do with the cookie-cutter pop that many younger female artists are releasing in Nashville, while a duet with Blake Shelton titled 'You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)' is such a fun track that it seems like a ready-made hit single.

Gill has known Monroe since shortly after she came to Nashville, and the pair reminisced about him having to pick her up for their first writing session because she was not old enough to drive. The Nashville veteran compared Monroe to Emmylou Harris in terms of her intention to make music on her own terms, regardless of the commercial environment. "I just miss some tradition in country music, and I really believe that this girl -- like Emmylou did in the '70s -- I think this record of Ashley’s has the same opportunity," Gill says. "It’s honest.”

Monroe seemed nervous about the reception toward her work, but was clearly thrilled with the way it came out. "I've obviously been a fan of Vince since I was born -- sorry Vince!" she said with a laugh. "To have him, I knew it was gonna be country like I like country; not for anyone, not for anything, but just to make the record that I want to make."

Gill choked up as he recounted the playback session for the album's title song and first single, 'Like a Rose,' when a tearful Monroe hugged him. "She said, 'Thank you -- thank you for helping me make the record I've always wanted to make, my entire life,'" he recalled. "So I've been paid in full long before the record even is gonna come out."

'Like a Rose' is slated to drop on March 5 from Warner Music Nashville.