Tag Archives: The Blade

My Top Ten Country Songs (July 2015)

July had very few releases compared to June, so this is going to be divided between Jason Isbell, Alan Jackson, and Ashley Monroe. However, this is certainly not a bad thing, as all of these releases were great albums.

10. Ashley Monroe–“I’m Good at Leavin'”–A great “rambling woman” song about being the girl who can’t stay home and clean and raise children. When the No. 10 song got a ten in my review, you know the list is going to be great.
9. Alan Jackson–“The One You’re Waiting On”–An excellently written song told from the point of view of a man observing a woman across the room waiting on her date. He watches her check her phone and turn men away, speculating about whether the guy she’s waiting on is really worth it.
8. Jason Isbell–“Something More Than Free”–A great ode to the working class that is what country is really all about…call him Americana or folk or rock, but this is country at its finest.
7. Jason Isbell–“Palmetto Rose”–I hesitated to put this here, as this is more Southern rock, but it would be incorrect not to list this upbeat tribute to South Carolina, the “iodine state.”
6. Alan Jackson–“Gone Before You Met Me”–This is a fun song off Jackson’s album where he meets Tom Sawyer and Jack Kerouac and decides in the end that family life is better than rambling. It’s a good thing to see a singer uphold family values, and it shows that you can name-drop without being obnoxious about it.
5. Alan Jackson–“Angels and Alcohol”–A classic country commentary on mixing women with alcoholism, complete with great instrementation and lyrics.
4. Alan Jackson–“You Can Always Come Home”–As I said in my Angels and Alcohol review, this song took on a double meaning for me, and it felt like coming home after all the crap being marketed as country on a daily basis.
3. Ashley Monroe–“The Blade”–A heartbreak song with perfect imagery and a beautiful melody. “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade”…excellent.
2. Ashley Monroe–“Dixie”–I said in my review of The Blade that this song should get a twelve, and I still believe that. It’s a great song about being sick of the South, and would have scored No. 1 for me any other month.
1. Jason Isbell–“Speed Trap Town”–I told you once, and I’ll tell you again…please listen to this song. This tear jerker about a teenager saying goodbye to his father in a small town hospital will be a candidate for my song of the year. It’s going to be hard to beat.

Honorable Mentions

  • Jason Isbell’s “Life you Chose” and “24 Frames”
  • Ashley Monroe’s “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” and “Bombshell

Album Review: Ashley Monroe–The Blade

Rating: 8.5/10

If you have read Female Fridays, you already know how I felt about Ashley Monroe up to this point. Her previous album, 2013’s Like a Rose, was one of my favorite albums of the past five years, and I have been wanting to hear more music from her ever since. Like a Rose would have gotten a ten. So, as you can see, The Blade, while still good, did not quite live up to my expectations of Ashley Monroe. This was a very hard review for me to do, because there were individual songs that were tens to me, but unlike the last album, they stood out among other songs that were not as great. I will point out the stand-out tens as I go.

The album opens with the lead single, “On to Something Good,” which is actually my least favorite song on The Blade. It was not a great choice for a single and does not reflect the album as a whole. It is a pop country song, which is a new sound for Ashley after the entirely traditional Like a Rose, but this is to be expected after “Lonely Tonight”‘s success. The song itself is basically about moving on from hard times and finding the good things in life. I will say it took me severl listens to get this out of the song, as the lyrics are extremely vague and not Ashley Monroe quality. Next is “I Buried Your Love Alive,” another pop country song, this time dealing with heartbreak and “a memory I can’t kill.” This suits Ashley’s voice more, although the instrumentation draws you a little away from her voice, which should never happen. Ashley Monroe’s voice should always be the focal point in her songs. Next is “Bombshell,” and here the pop country sound that worked for Ashley in “Lonely Tonight” finally works again. This is a great song about finding the right time to “drop a bombshell” and leave someone. For me, this song itself is a ten.

Next is “Weight of the Load,” a Monroe co-write with Vince Gill, who as I mentioned in Female Fridays also had a hand in producing the album. This song is surprisingly mediocre for an Ashley Monroe and Vince Gill co-write–it’s not a bad song, I just expected more. It’s another pop country song about helping a partner shoulder life’s burdens. I could easily picture Kacey Musgraves singing it, and she would have probably arranged it more traditionally, so it would have been better. “The Blade” is another ten for me–a heartbreak song featuring a great melody, prominent piano play, and lyrics that paint a perfect picture. Ashley sings, of the broken relationship, “You caught it by the handle, and I caught it by the blade.” Incidentally, that’s Miranda Lambert on backing vocals.

“Winning Streak” is a fun, upbeat song where I focused more on the piano than the lyrics. Ashley sings, “If losing’s a game, I’m on a winning streak.” This would get played on radio if radio was country…right. “From Time to Time” tooke me a couple listens, but it’s one of my favorites now. I hesitate to give it a ten because it did take me a couple times, but this autobiographical song is one that can really connect if you listen. Ashley mentions the “tenth of September” in the opening line as the character’s birthday, and so I knew she was addressing herself. She is telling her younger self that someday everything will be fine, but that it is all right to remember. If I hadn’t caught the “tenth of September” line, I admit I would probably be confused about this song and/or think it was a generic song, but knowing it is autobiographical helps it a lot.

“If Love Was Fair” is a pop country song that I feel doesn’t work for Ashley. The song focuses too much on rhythm and not enough on her voice or the lyrics. It could have been a better song, but it is actually pretty forgettable. Following this is “Has Anybody Ever Told You,” a love song that goes back to traditional country and does feature Ashley’s beautiful voice, which actually hurts “If Love Was Fair” even more. Next is “Dixie,” which immediately makes you think it will be another ode to the South. The opening line begins with, “If I ever get out of Dixie” and we are hit with lines like “I’m so tired of payin’, prayin’ for my sins, Lord, get me out of Dixieland, in Jesus’s name, amen.” This song should get a twelve. The lyrics are great, the instrumentation is great, and the fact that a country singer had the audacity to cut this gives it extra credit–not to mention it has the deceivingly innocent title “Dixie.”

Next is “If the Devil Don’t Want Me,” another ten. It’s a traditional country song that asks where she’ll go if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t see the light. “May Flowers” is a pretty good traditional country love song, and maybe I’m the only one, but this song gets on my nerves because I hear Merle Haggard’s “If We Make it Through December” in the music and melody. The album ends with the excellent “I’m Good at Leavin’,” a co-write with Miranda Lambert about being the woman who is good at walking away rather than staying at home and being a wife.

There were a lot of great tracks on this album, but it fell short of a ten because there were mediocre tracks mixed in. So, not as awesome as Like a Rose, but definitely worth checking out.

Listen to Album

Female Fridays: Featuring Ashley Monroe

Her new album, The Blade, is out today (I will have a review of it shortly.) In light of that, it seems natural to feature Ashley Monroe on this Female Friday.

How You Might Know Ashley

She’s the beautiful voice that completes Blake Shelton’s “Lonely Tonight.” Also, she was one-third (my favorite third) of the Pistol Annies–other Annies include Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.

Bio

Ashley Monroe (born September 10, 1986, from Knoxville, Tennessee), has been paying her dues for many years. At age eleven, she won a talent competition in Pigeon Forge singing “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart” and landed a job in a theater performing several nights a week. Her idyllic life was turned upside down two years later, when her father died suddenly. Ashley mentions her father’s death often in her songs (“Like a Rose,” “Monroe Suede”.) Music was her outlet, and she became a very talented songwriter as she dealt with his death.

Ashley moved to Nashville soon after, and after a long search for a major label, Columbia Records finally took a chance on her, allowing her to start work on her debut album at nineteen. Two Singles were released, “Satisfied” and “I don’t Want To”–a duet with Ronnie Dunn–but neither charted well, and Ashley’s album went unreleased. Ashley and Columbia parted ways in 2007. (The album, Satisfied, was eventually released in 2009.)

It would be six years before Ashley would release another solo album. During those years, Ashley worked both as a songwriter and backing vocalist. Chances are, if you like country and listen to it often, you know a song that Ashley Monroe worked on. Songs that bear her writing include Jason Aldean’s “The Truth,” Miranda Lambert’s “Heart Like Mine,” and Carrie Underwood’s “Flat on the Floor.” Her backing vocals can be heard on Miranda’s “Me and Your Cigarettes,” and Wade Bowen’s “If We Ever Make it Home,” among others. In addition, she independently released an EP with Trent Dabbs (with the unoriginal title Ashley Monroe and Trent Dabbs), sang with Jack White’s Third Man House Band, and collaborated with The Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs on a single called “Old Enough.” In 2012, she even performed a song called “Bruises” with Train and toured with the group.

The most pivotal event in Ashley’s career during this time was the formation of the Pistol Annies in 2011. Miranda Lambert and Ashley, now friends, formed the group with Angaleena Presley, making their surprise debut at the ACM Girls Night Out on April 22, 2011, with “hell on Heels.” They were an instant success and produced two remarkable albums, Hell on Heels (2011) and Annie Up (2013.) The success of the Annies rebuilt Ashley’s solo career and sparked Angaleena’s, unfortunately leading to the disbanding of the Annies in 2014. However, Ashley was signed by Warner Bros, and finally released her second solo album in 2013. The album was titled Like a Rose and was produced by Vince Gill. Like a Rose was one of the best albums I have heard in the last five years, and it was met with much deserved critical acclaim. She finally got the breakthrough she had worked so long to achieve with Like a Rose, proving that hard work and dedication really can and does pay off. My only complaint with it was it ended too soon–it only contained nine tracks, and I immediately wanted to hear more. Today I get that wish, as her third album, The Blade, is finally here. I will reserve comments on that for the review, although I will say it was also produced by Vince Gill, so one would expect it to be awesome.

Why Ashley Belongs on Country Radio

Now would be the perfect time to start playing Ashley Monroe on country radio. Everyone knows her from “Lonely Tonight.” Plus, a commenter on another site described her voice as “pure gold” and that’s the best way to put it. She is a great songwriter, but even when she didn’t write the song, she has a way of telling a story when she sings. It’s probably from dealing with the pain of her father’s death and having to grow up so young. At any rate, when Ashley Monroe sings, you want to listen, to sad songs especially, but really to anything. I have praised other women for their songwriting, but with Ashley, the strength lies in her voice. Not to mention her voice is authentically country. She could put pop beats or rock beats or whatever behind it–she doesn’t, she generally stays traditional with traces of pop here and there–but she would still sound country. We need a woman like that on the radio.

Tracks I Recommend

This is not counting The Blade, as I am doing an entire album review over that. In light of that, I feel it would be a disservice to pick apart Like a Rose, as it is all awesome. So just go listen to it. As for Satisfied, everything on it is great as well, but it is more of an acquired taste, especially for those who like less twang or are just starting with Ashley. So just go listen to Like a Rose and proceed from there. With that album you cannot go wrong.

Listen to Like a Rose

Random Thoughts of the Week: Luke Bryan Apoligizes, Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert Announce Divorce

This column has previously been on Sundays, but this weekend I was moving so it comes late. However, since music is now being released on Friday, changing the times for album reviews, this column will move to Tuesdays starting next week.

Last week, I used the Random Thoughts column to rip apart Luke Bryan for his disparaging comments about outlaw country, as well as his mischaracterization of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard. Since then, Luke has called the families of Waylon and Merle to personally apologize for his actions. Both Shooter Jennings and Ben Haggard have come forward publicly about this to say basically that this is water under the bridge, and that Luke did an honorable thing by apologizing privately. I happen to agree. Whether he meant to disparage them or not, he proved by apologizing personally that he truly cared about how it affected them. he had already tried to repair his public image on Twitter–and that is all most artists would have done. Regardless of my opinion of Luke or his music, this was a very classy thing. Last week, my post was entitled “What Happened to the Class in Country?” and this was Luke showing he still has some.

Earlier today, (July 20th), Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert released a statement announcing their divorce. They said this was not the future they had “envisioned” and added that “it is with heavy hearts that we move forward separately.” The statement continued, “We are real people, with real lives, with real families, friends, and colleagues. Therefore, we kindly ask for privacy and compassion concerning this very personal matter.” In respect to them, we should not, and I will not, seek to decipher what led to the divorce. However, I do wonder how it will affect their careers. Will Blake Shelton lose some relevancy? He gained much more radio relevancy when he married Miranda, although this was also around the time he started on “The Voice,” which certainly played a role. If this had happened a few years ago, he might have been in trouble, but now, with the male-dominated radio waves and his job on “The Voice,” I think he will not be affected, but who knows? Miranda could continue to lose airplay as well–she is a female and that is an automatic strike against her, and now she won’t be married to Blake, so radio will probably give her less of a chance. Their dominance at the ACM and CMA Awards will certainly end, and Carrie Underwood will have a well-deserved shot at Top Female Vocalist. Personally, I hope neither of their careers is seriously hurt, but I prefer Miranda over Blake, and I would hate to see one less female on the radio because she lost her “ticket.” As I mentioned, I will not speculate on what led to the divorce, but we all know if cheating was indeed involved–as many gossip sites would have us believe–Miranda will put it in her next album. However, their privacy should be respected. Just because we hear their music and see Blake on TV does not mean their lives should be put under a microscope.

Tomato of the Week: Ashley Monroe

Her new album comes out Friday–I have been waiting for this since her last album–so what better day to feature her? Here’s the lead single from the new album, The Blade

Random Country Suggestion: Miranda Lambert and Blake Shelton, “Better in the Long Run”

A song from happier times–incidentally, co-written by our featured female Ashley Monroe.

Non-Country Suggestion: Taylor Swift, 1989

I’m late to the party on this, as I could not stand Taylor’s previous album Red attempting to be both pop and country and thus failing at both. However, I recently bought 1989 and now that she is not pretending and is embracing a pop sound, Taylor is better than she ever was in country. If you like pop, give it a listen.

Listen to 1989

That’s all for this week’s Random Thoughts!