ToC Critic’s Pick: Ashley Monroe, ‘The Blade’
Heard earlier this year during a promotional event for Ashley Monroe’s new album, The Blade: “I f-in’ hate people who don’t love Ashley Monroe.”
In life and country music there aren’t “Ashley Monroe People” and “Not Ashley Monroe People.” There’s “Ashley Monroe People” and “Who?” The 28-year-old crooner is known as one of the premiere vocalists of our time, to those who’ve listened to one of her three albums or seen her live. The Blade is more optimistic than Like a Rose, her first album on Warner Bros., but almost reluctantly so.
Without a radio hit, she falls between some cracks. For many she’s simply known as Miranda Lambert’s friend and bandmate, and that’s unfortunate, because this album offers something everyone misses in country music: sharp, honest, vulnerable stories of love, loss and leaving.
“Wheels are gonna rust / If they don’t turn enough,” Monroe sings to begin “On To Something Good,” The Blade’s opening track. It’s the only buoyant song on the album, although “Weight of the Load” extends a dark hand. The singer proves her smile is as sweet as her tears on this song, the most radio-friendly of the bunch (sadly, it barely cracked the charts).
Sonically The Blade is a rich album that borrows from swing, bluegrass, soul and jazz to ensure no two songs sound exactly the same. The native Tennessean ties them all together, pulling one in like an early 20th century chanteuse. Piano chases “Winning Streak” (“If losing’s a game / I’m on a winning streak”), while the soft brushes of a jazz drummer cradle “I Buried Your Love Alive.”
Deep inside me there’s a shallow grave / That haunts me every day, yeah / I buried your love alive.
The title track and “Bombshell” are the two you need to hear before casting a vote for or against The Blade. Both are ballads, and both are breakup songs, although they’re interpreted from opposite ends. “Ten till three or half past nine / It’ll never be a good time to drop a bombshell,” Monroe sings on the third song.
“The Blade” features Lambert on harmonies, and is the only song Monroe didn’t help write. It’s just three-and-a-half minutes long, but packs in a Faulkner novel’s worth of emotion. One hears this song and begs to know if everything is well with the singer and her baseball player husband. Her vulnerability grips your throat and doesn’t relinquish until the final notes fade into “Winning Streak.”
Yet as a whole, the project is light and approachable. The songs wear off after offering a melody or story to hang onto, but her honeyed voice lingers for days.
Key Tracks: "On To Something Good," "The Blade," "Winning Streak"
Did You Know?: "Has Anybody Ever Told You" was written nearly a decade ago by Monroe and producer Tyler Cain.
Ashley Monroe Talks About Her Special Duet With Miranda Lambert