2015 CD REVIEW
THE BLADE (WARNER).
COAL-MINER'S DAUGHTER ASHLEY FLEES DIXIE
“I'm so tired of paying, praying for my sins/ Lord get me out of Dixieland, in Jesus' name, amen/ it was the mines that killed my daddy/ it was the law that killed my man/ it was the Bible belt that whipped me/ when I broke the Fifth Command/ now, I don't hate the weather/ now, I don't hate the land/ but if I had it my way I'd never see this place again.” - Dixie - Justin Davis.
Tennessean troubadour Ashley Monroe draws on true tragedies to fuel sad songs - her oasis in a densely populated positive pop country mainstream radio forest.
When Monroe was 11 she won a Dollywood talent quest in Pigeon Ford singing I Want To Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart.
Two years later her father Larry gave Ashley her first guitar.
But that same year, aged 13, Ashley's life was shattered by her dad's death at 40 - three months after being diagnosed with pancreatic and liver cancer.
She retreated and found solace in song-writing during her grief.
“I love sad songs,” revealed Monroe , now 28, and raised in tiny Corryton, just east of Knoxville.
“Makes you feel stuff, don't it?” I have to sing. It's just inside me, I have to do it. I've always drawn on sadness.”
“People always ask, ‘Are you sad all the time?' And I'm not sad all the time, but even before my dad passed away in 2000 when I was 13, even when I was a little girl there was always this underlying sadness. Just right under my skin. After Daddy passed it's always there, but I've always turned to music to draw that sadness out.”
Monroe moved to Nashville with her mother at 15 to follow her musical dreams and hit numerous recording hurdles as she developed her healthy song-writing catalogue.
"Yeah! The first record I made when I was 17," Monroe recalled of her debut album Satisfied, scheduled for release by Columbia and released online but then cancelled until a digital boomerang two years later.
"Labels merged and plans didn't work out, but plans never work out as planned. But I never stopped making music. I never had a backup plan. I never thought maybe I should just write, or maybe I should. I just kept going. I thank God that I didn't overthink it because there was a plan after all, for me to make another record and for it to be with Vince Gill, and here it is. And for the Annies. That was the most unexpected, unplanned, magnificently, beautifully-timed thing ever."
Monroe 's third solo album The Blade , like her 2013 breakthrough disc Like A Rose , was produced by Vince Gill and Justin Niebank.
"I'll never not be star-struck when I see Vince Gill," Monroe said of her co-producer of the disc that debuted at #2 on Billboard in July.
"No matter how good of a friend he is to me, no matter how much he feels like family to me, when I see Vince Gill, I melt. I've always looked up to him, and I still do, and I always will."
As expected the disc won critical acclaim and wide exposure on TV with selective appearances and live gigs with her pal and recently divorced Texan born star Miranda Lambert.
With delicious irony Monroe was featured on Miranda's Oklahoma born former singing spouse Blake Shelton's hit, Lonely Tonight - second single from his ninth album, Bringing Back the Sunshine.
Love has been kinder to Monroe, who released two albums with Miranda and Angaleena Presley, as The Pistol Annies .
Ashley married Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks in October 24, 2013, after they met through a mutual friend after one of her shows in 2011.
They were married at Blackberry Farm in Walland , Tennessee .
Shelton was wedding MC and Lambert was the maid of honor.
“I married my best friend,” the singer says of her husband.
“He has such a good heart.”
But Monroe is indebted to another man for her defiant anthem Dixie.
“ Dixie came from Justin Davis in Striking Matches . He had that idea and we were at some show in the dressing room and he played it for me and I fell in love with it. I've always loved those old melodies like that, which sound like they were written way back in the day,” she recalled.
“I think I was like a 90-year-old man who worked on trains, because some of my earliest songs sound like that. I related to it, and when I sing it, I get mad inside. When I sang it for some radio people, I wondered in my mind, ‘Is this about I'm going to get what I deserve?' That's where it goes, because I definitely love the south and I'm never leaving. It's like, ‘I'll be damned, you're not going to take me down.'”
MONROE BLADE CUTS DEEP
“I let your love in, I have the scar/ I felt the razor against my heart/ I thought we were both in all the way/ but you caught it by the handle and I caught it by the blade.” - The Blade - Marc Beeson-Allen Shamblin-Jamie Floyd.
“It's so hard for me to write a positive song, but there are so many that I love that actually have some meat and substance to them,” she revealed.
“I really wanted to challenge myself for my new single. I tried to think of some Sheryl Crow songs I love that are up-tempo and make you feel good. I love those songs, I've just never written one.”
Monroe confessed some of her best songs come from when she is facing difficulties.
“When I'm happy, I'm not inspired to write about it as much. I'll go to the park, for a walk, or simply go be happy,” she explained.
“But it's in my dark moments that I feel the heavy heart that I want to write about.”
Monroe takes the good with the bad.
“That's not going to stop as long as we're alive. I've learned that in these 28 years,” she explained.
“But I've learned you can't get stuck in those bad times. If I'm alive and breathing, I'm not supposed to be stuck feeling sorry for myself. I'm supposed to keep going to whatever I'm going for, which I believe is something good.”
ON TO SOMETHING GOOD
“Lost and found, I'm better dancing when I don't look down/ hard times roll up but they don't hang around/ I feel like I'm on to something good/ I'm better moving on than going back/ I'll ride this train till it runs out of track/ I feel like I'm on to something, something, something good.” - On To Something Good - Ashley Monroe-Luke Laird-Barry Dean.
Monroe co-wrote current single, On To Something Good with Luke Laird and Barry Dean, and says it carries valuable messages for herself and fans.
“I really think it's important to express hope to people - and to myself that if you're alive and breathing, you're doing so for a reason, even if you've been through hell in the past,” Monroe explained.
“I think it's a way to say, ‘Keep going'. Just live. Don't overanalyse. Just go with it.”
The On to Something Good video, aired on Nu Country on September 12, was directed by Rachel McDonald and filmed in Nashville with upbeat stylish approach.
“This song speaks to where I am in my life and who I am,” Monroe explained.
“I'll get knocked down again. I got knocked down recently. And as long as we're living, things are going to happen that will bring us to our knees and you wonder, ‘How will I ever get through this?'
“As cheesy as this might sound, that's exactly how it felt. I like that the song is hopeful, and it's saying, ‘Hey, we've all been there. We all know what it's like to be down and out, but there's hope if you keep on going. And if you do, you will be on to something good.'”
Lambert spent time with Monroe on a “date night” on the town after her split with Shelton and quoted On To Something Good in her photographic record.
Monroe and Lambert also performed their collaboration tune Heart Like Mine from the Lambert 2011 album Revolution at the July 22 party to launch The Blade in Nashville .
“It means a lot to me that she's ever up on stage with me,” Monroe revealed of the impromptu performance.
“She's a very brave person and I look up to her a lot for it.”
Lambert joked about her divorce during a recent performance as a prelude to her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour with Monroe, Rae Lynn, Clare Dunn and Courtney Cole.
“I wish I've been drinking all day; I deserve it. I just got divorced,” Lambert said to an audience that included Gill and Phillip Sweet of Little Big Town .
Lambert also sings harmonies on The Blade and is co-writer of tongue-in-cheek waltz time album finale I'm Good at Leavin' that Monroe sang at the launch.
I BURIED YOUR LOVE ALIVE
“Woke up this morning in a cold, cold sweat/ heart broke and beating out of my chest/ I cried out your name against my will/ a memory I can't kill/ I buried your love alive/ deep inside me there's a shallow grave that haunts me every day/ I buried your love alive/ getting tired and I don't want to deal.” - I Buried Your Love Alive - Ashley Monroe-Matraca Berg.
Monroe excels on the brooding I Buried Your Love Alive and the soaring If Love Was Fair .
"I love country music so much," confessed the Tennessean who sported a dazzling lace dress that prohibited her from "squatting," as she quipped, to pick up her cocktail at the launch.
“My whole point in making music is that I can share my music with people. I feel like everything in my past was supposed to happen. Even things I still don't understand.
“I guess I've just always had this faith in my gut that everything would work out. Not to say I wasn't super disappointed at times or felt like, ‘What am I even doing?' That would be a lie to say that. But I never ever considered. I have to sing. It's just inside me, I have to do it.”
Gill joined Monroe on stage at her launch to sing harmony on the inspirational The Weight of the Load - a song they wrote together about weathering life's storms.
The duo Striking Matches , who penned two of the songs on The Blade, also performed.
DEVILS AND NEON
“If the devil don't want me/ where the hell do I go?/ if I can't see the light in the neon glow/ if there ain't enough whiskey/ to kill the fire in my soul/ if the devil don't want me/ where the hell do I go?” - If The Devil Don't Want Me - Chris Stapleton-Jessi Leigh Alexander-Ashley Monroe.
Monroe admits she returns to certain scenes when she sings each song.
“Like when I'm singing Has Anyone Ever Told You , I have the exact same feeling. That song takes me somewhere.”
It was written over a decade ago with well-known songwriter and producer Tyler Cain.
The song has been in her repertoire for nearly a decade, and has long been her signature tune.
She first recorded it for her ill-fated debut disc on arrival from Knoxville .
Her original was spare and direct but the version on her new album is fuller and denser - Monroe makes the song sound like a whispered exchange between the listener and herself.
Songwriter Jessi Alexander also appeared in a duet on If Love Was Fair - one of four songs she co-wrote for the project - and boogie woogie fuelled Winning Streak - co-written with former Steeldrivers guitarist and singer-songwriter Chris Stapleton.
I like to stay distracted,” Monroe admits.
“When I was younger I did it just to survive. I was like ‘OK, I don't wanna hurt.'”
“Now like I feel like I have something to do. I'm determined to get my music heard. I'm happier in life, I'm more confident in life so I'm driven.”
If the Devil Don't Want Me is a flashback to the history of the genre - pain and confusion illuminated by neon lights and jukeboxes full of honkytonk anthems - while leaving song Bombshell emulates calm before chaos.
A looped beat opens From Time to Time with a rigid meter, but it loosens up gradually until it recalls something recorded decades ago at Muscle Shoals.