Ashley Monroe’s The Blade: Track-by-Track

[I’ve said many times before how my job frequently opens my mind up to genres I wouldn’t normally consider. Of the many surprises in how my music taste has expanded in the last year, one of the last arenas I would have expected it was in the realm of modern-day, mainstream country. The first album that changed my mind was Kacey Musgraves’ Pageant Material, which was followed shortly thereafter by Ashley Monroe’s The Blade.

In both cases, I’m endlessly charmed by the songwriting, musicianship and general aura of these two honey-sweet performers with something real to say. It gives you hope that Nashville can still put out good music that isn’t only concerned with barbecue sauce, patriotism and monster truck rallies. I was pleased to be able to arrange this formidable track-by-track description from Ms. Monroe herself.]

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Ashley Monroe’s time has come.

 

After years of competing in the make it or break it music hub that is Nashville, the Tennessee native is here to serve up a slice of country-style redemption with her razor-sharp new record, The Blade—our Album of the Week.

Shortly after moving to Nashville and earning a publishing deal with Sony, Monroe recorded her first album, Satisfied, back in 2006. The LP was shelved due to limited radio success, and held until 2009 when it was unceremoniously released digital form.

In the meantime the darling talent with a stunning voice and sharp pen made her reputation as a co-writer and support vocalist – a gig that included guesting on a version of The Raconteurs’s “Old Enough” and playing in Jack White’s Third Man House Band.

Monroe’s big break came in 2011 as a member of Pistol Annies, the super-trio also featuring Miranda Lambert and fellow recent breakout Angaleena Presley.

Signing to Warner, Monroe followed up with her angelic proper debut, Like a Rose (2013), which paired her with venerated artist-producer Vince Gill (who also co-produces on The Blade) and earned high marks from critics.

True to its name, her new album, The Blade, is a decidedly more knife-like affair, dealing with grief, misfortune, darkness, and, foremost, crippling heartache. As Monroe admits below, “This record does have edges — it has sharp edges, and every song cuts.”

Alongside Kacey Musgraves’ newest record, The Blade is a mighty contender for best country album of 2015, and some of the most refreshing music to come out of Nashville in a long time.

Listen to The Blade now while enjoying this exclusive track-by-track description, generously provided by Ms. Monroe herself.

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On to Something Good
(Ashley Monroe/Barry Dean/Luke Laird)

This was the last song I wrote for the record. When you’re making a record, you want to have something up-tempo and positive, and I try really hard to write them but it’s so hard for me. I don’t really know how to write to say I’m happy, but I do now how to write to say, “I’ve been through a lot. I understand, life is hard, but keep going.”

To me, it’s an encouraging song behind a good beat that feels authentic. It has a groove to it and is not just fluff. But it is a rarity—I probably won’t write another like that for a while. It might be one every 10 years. But I am really glad I wrote it, because I needed that reminder to keep going. And I think other people need it as well, to know that the hard times don’t last forever.

 

I Buried Your Love Alive
(Ashley Monroe/Matraca Berg)

I wrote this with Matraca Berg, who has written some of the best songs ever. I had gotten my mom a book called Feelings Buried Alive Never Die, talking about getting things out. I thought it was a cool concept to think about all the things that we’ve buried inside of us that are still alive, that we haven’t dealt with.

We all do that, swallow things down and hope that it stays down there. That’s what this song is about. It’s dark, but it keeps you moving with its groove. It has this angst to it that I feel when I’m singing it. I really love this one and I’m proud of it.

 

Bombshell
(Ashley Monroe/Gordie Sampson/Steve McEwan)

“Bombshell” is probably one of my favorite songs on the record. There are so many bombshells in life: “I don’t love you anymore”; “I’m pregnant”; “I have cancer”; “I’m gay.” The list goes on and on. It’s part of growing up and you have to learn how to say these things.

I love the last verse of the song, because it talks about driving away from that big moment and how it’s not easy. Just because you tell somebody you don’t love them anymore doesn’t mean you feel better for saying it—you feel awful, because you just messed up somebody’s life. You have to deal with the consequence of dropping a bombshell on somebody and leaving.

 

Weight of the Load
(Ashley Monroe/Vince Gill)

“Weight of the Load” definitely says, ‘I got you.’ Vince and I wrote it around the same time I cut the Like a Rose record. It’s always stayed in my mind. I think it’s so comforting to hear someone say, “I’ll help you out with the weight of the load.” And we all know what that means. Life, love, everything gets heavy. And we do need help.

Some things I’ve been through, I don’t know how I would have gotten through them without friends there to help me. To write that with Vince means a lot to me, and he has helped me out with the weight of the load — a lot. I have definitely shown up at his door, bawling. I’m really glad that this song is on this record and that we get to share it together.

 

The Blade
(Marc Beeson/Allen Shamblin/Jamie Floyd)

I had cut 14 songs by this point, so I already had too many for the record. And I was very happy and not looking for anything else. But my manager said, “I want you to hear this.” I couldn’t believe how good it was. It talks about heartbreak in a way that I had never heard before, which is hard, because I have listened to a lot of heartbreak songs and have written a lot of heartbreak songs.

I was going through something at the time that I could really relate to the receiving end of the knife. After we recorded it, Miranda Lambert came in to sing background on it, and you can hear the ache in her voice too, because she knew what I was going through. As we were thinking of a title for the record, my manager said, “What about The Blade? And this record does have edges — it has sharp edges, and every song cuts. I thought it was absolutely appropriate.

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Winning Streak
(Ashley Monroe/Chris Stapleton/Jessi Alexander)

Chris Stapleton, Jessie Alexander and myself were writing this song the same day we wrote another song on the record, “The Devil Don’t Want Me.” It was a really productive day. I love that it’s fast, up-tempo and that people clap along to it.

“If losing’s a game, I’m on a winning streak”—it talks about something sad to an up-tempo beat, which I love. Roger Miller’s “Dang Me” is like that. I love songs that people can dance to but are still sad. We had Marty Stuart’s band the Superlatives come in and do the little vocal parts. I love throwback country, so I was very pleased with this track.

 

From Time to Time
(Ashley Monroe/Justin Davis/Sarah Zimmerman)

Before I got married in October 2013, I was getting really sad because I was missing my dad, who passed away when I was 13. I was thinking, “He’s not going to be here to walk me down the aisle.” It was a huge, noticeable absence. I kept talking to him and praying to him, and praying to God to calm me down and give me something to hold on to.

I fell asleep on the couch one night and woke up around 9:30, and that song was in my head: the chords and the lyrics. I ran and got a guitar to find those chords, because those chords are hard and I don’t normally play them. It was so clearly straight from my dad. The whole first verse and chorus came pouring out. I couldn’t write it down fast enough, it was just so loud in my head.

The next day I had a show and Justin and Sarah from Striking Matches were playing with me and they helped me decode the second verse. I had a lot of syllables and I’ll have almost the word—that’s how some songs come to me—and I have to make out what the words are. That’s definitely my dad’s song to me. It took my breath away.

 

If Love Was Fair
(Ashley Monroe/Steve Moakler/Jessi Alexander)

“If Love Was Fair”…it’s so not! I wrote that with Jessi and Steve and we were just talking about the fact that love isn’t fair. It felt like a cool idea to write about all the things you wouldn’t be doing if love was fair. I love that it’s low and gritty in the verses and soaring in the chorus.

From a girl’s point of view, I like that it says, “I wouldn’t be half-lit drunk/digging around for danger/writing my number on a coaster/sliding to a stranger.” It’s like a girl out, trying to fill the void. I like to talk about that, because it does happen and a lot of girls don’t talk about it. I love the feel and groove of that song, and Vince’s voice singing on the chorus doesn’t hurt much.

 

Has Anybody Told You
(Ashley Monroe/Tyler Cain)

I wrote this song in 2008 with a friend of mine named Tyler Cain. It was another one that woke me up. I was sound asleep, living in this little dumpy apartment, and I heard it really clear in my head. It’s so simply written and I don’t know how to describe why it rips my heart out the way it does and people react to it how they do. Because there’s not really a hook. Yet there’s some kind of magic in it.

It’s one of my favorite songs I’ve ever written. Everyone wants to be told those things—I know I do. “When you walk in a dark room, the light of a thousand moons surrounds you.” I’d love to be told that. And it can be to your lover, your kids, maybe your dog. It’s a universal love song.

 

Dixie
(Ashley Monroe/Justin Davis/Sarah Zimmerman)

“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. 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.”

 

The Devil Don’t Want Me
(Ashley Monroe/Chris Stapleton/Jessi Alexander)

In “Winning Streak” we say, “damned old devil don’t even want my soul.” So one of these songs spun off the other. But “The Devil Don’t Want Me” is one of my favorites too, about being at the lowest of the low.

I love those country songs where there is no trick to it; it’s just singing my heart out. I tear up when I sing, “You are my heaven, you are my home/so what am I supposed to do now that heaven is gone?” You can’t even get drunk right. With Stapleton and Jessi writing it with me, this came out pretty fast.

 

Mayflowers
(Ashley Monroe/Brendan Benson)

Brendan Benson, from the Raconteurs and his own solo career, is just so good, and one of my favorite people in the world. We met when I did this thing with the Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs in 2008. Brendan and I hit it off instantly. The day after that shoot, I was over at his house writing. Every day at 3 o’clock, I’d go over to his house. I knew his wife, his kids. It was so amazing the chemistry we had writing.

And it’s an unlikely pairing really: he’s a guy from Detroit with a pop-rock background and I’m from east Tennessee and country. But something about our voices really goes well together, and our personalities. We wrote like 14 songs and one day I want to release an EP. “Mayflower” is one we wrote, and it stuck out to me big time for this album. When I sing it, I almost sing it to myself. It’s like “Like a Rose Part II.”

 

I’m Good at Leavin’
(Ashley Monroe/Jessi Alexander/Miranda Lambert)

Jessi Alexander and I were out on the road with Miranda. Miranda had just finished her show and I was the first one on the bus getting my stuff together. I have a routine where I roll up all my clothes, very organized. I was singing, “I’m good at leaving, it’s all I do/I’ll hang around a day or two.” It just started coming out and I thought, ‘They better get up here or I’m going to write this whole song and they’re not going to get any part of it.”

At the very end, Jessi, who has two twin boys and a six-year-old daughter, said, “I thought of another good line: I’m bad at hearing babies screaming.” The idea of leaving is so interesting, because when you’re coming off the road, you get tired and want to come home. Then you sit at home a little bit and get used to leaving. I don’t even unpack my bag a lot. I don’t know how to hang my clothes — I only know how to roll them. So I am good at leaving. It’s the truth.

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