Ashley Monroe – The Blade (2015)

Annie UpAshley Monroe certainly had a banner year in 2013. In March, she released her long overdue debut LP Like a Rose, and in May the Pistol Annies — a trio consisting of Monroe, superstar Miranda Lambert, and Angaleena Presley — released their sophomore album Annie Up; both were excellent. With Lambert and Presley having both released albums in 2014, Monroe is the only Pistol Annie putting out an album in 2015. It’s another good effort: the songs here are varied, and the production is smoother than the last time around (I criticized the sound of Like a Rose for being a tad bright when I reviewed it upon its release). I was still new to how Nashville operated back then — though I’m still by no means an expert now, it should be noted — so I was surprised to discover that it’s common for country albums to be about 30 minutes long instead of a full LP’s worth (45-50 minutes on vinyl; obviously potentially much longer than that on CD). Well, Like a Rose was 9 tracks and 31 minutes long; The Blade is 50% longer: 13 tracks and 46 minutes in length.

Like a RoseUnfortunately, this works against the album’s effectiveness. Monroe is the Jeb Bush of country music — if Donald Trump gave The Blade a listen, he’d vilify it for being “very low energy.” Actually, this is a bit of a mischaracterization: there are plenty of songs on The Blade that would not fit that description, but for some reason — blame the extended length, perhaps — it seems like the album slows to a crawl every time a ballad or slower number like “Has Anybody Ever Told You” pops up. The music never stops being good — the craftsmanship here is top notch and the production is suitably sumptuous — but the album tends to feel like it goes on and on, detracting from my enjoyment of it when taken as a whole. Still, it’s definitely worth a listen, even if country isn’t your thing. Ultimately I prefer Like a Rose to Monroe’s sophomore effort, but there are still some quality songs here like the opener “On to Something Good,” the beautiful “Bombshell,” the closer “I’m Good at Leavin’,” and the best song here, the Fleetwood Mac-ish “If Love Was Fair.”

Summary
Another quality record from one of Nashville's young critical darlings, The Blade is a successful follow-up to Ashley Monroe's well-received debut Like a Rose that shows her grow in many ways but fail to deliver a complete package that, when taken as a whole, improves upon her first record.
Good
  • High level of craftsmanship, both in terms of songwriting and production
  • Easy on the ears; Monroe possesses a soft touch
  • Some really top-notch tracks like "On to Something Good" and "If Love Was Fair"
Bad
  • The slower songs really drag; the album has momentum issues
  • The songs are varied but not all of them are necessarily that interesting
8
Great

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