Review – Ashley Monroe’s “On To Something Good”

Ashley Monroe

Ashley Monroe caught everyone’s attention when she came onto the country scene as a part of Pistol Annies, the trio made up of her, Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley. Monroe though caught my attention when I heard her 2013 album Like A Rose. Produced by Vince Gill, I was impressed by her artistry and her dynamic voice. It was one of my favorite country albums that year and I was excited about her future. She’s gotten more and more attention lately, mostly because of her duet with Blake Shelton on “Lonely Tonight.” It’s been featured in Pepsi commercial and has been featured heavily on radio, as it’s destined to reach #1 on the Country Airplay chart soon. But I’ve been waiting for her next album. Well now we’ve gotten the first taste of it, as she’s released the debut single off it, titled “On To Something Good.”

So is this song on to something good for Monroe? Well, no it’s not. “On To Something Good” is a song about….I’m not sure. It’s so bland and uninteresting that I find it hard to listen to. It doesn’t hold my attention and is the equivalent of elevator music. It’s just something to fill the void. So for as what the song is about, you can choose. I know I don’t feel like figuring it out because this song is just so boring and we all have better music we could be listening to. The reason I think the theme is so bland is because this song is so radio-friendly. It’s obviously a ploy for a radio play, as Monroe is capable of so much more. The instrumentation is just as boring and unimaginative as the non-existent, neutral theme. It’s quite pop sounding and upbeat. The country sound is practically non-existent, as the guitar is buried in the background of the song. That’s because the drum machine dominates the beat. Monroe even sounds bored singing, as her voice is flat in the chorus.

I find it hard to believe Gill is producing Monroe’s next album, based on this offering. This just feels so empty and castrated compared to the material off of Monroe’s first album. I can’t even hate this song because it’s too bland to hate. I’m just left feeling disappointed and a little sleepy. I’ll forget about this song with a couple of weeks. That’s how forgettable this song is from Monroe. I hope this is just an anomaly on her new album because if this is a precursor it may go down as the biggest disappointment of 2015. “On To Something Good” is on to something not so good. It’s a watered-down, pop country song that is well below what Monroe is capable of producing.

Grade: 5/10

11 thoughts on “Review – Ashley Monroe’s “On To Something Good”

  1. Raymond February 27, 2015 / 1:29 pm

    Well I don’t know what it is but I really like this. The pop production really helps the song with Ashley’s voice the lyrics are supposed to mean somebody’s feeling better and that their on to something good. I will agree on the chorus the drum beat is rather bland. I think in the verses they show her strength where as the chorus it falls flat.
    Overall total lovable ear candy. 7.5/10 for me my opinion.

    Thanks for the review.

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  2. bob February 27, 2015 / 5:15 pm

    Agree. It’s bland, boring, uninteresting, etc. Surprising choice as the first single.

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  3. Donna February 28, 2015 / 6:49 pm

    I don’t hate it, mabe she is going pop.

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  4. NoahHibiscusEaton February 28, 2015 / 9:55 pm

    I’m really torn over this one.

    On one hand, Ashley has already proven she can deliver one exquisite album that rates up there with the very best in a given year. “Like A Rose” was easily one of the best albums of 2013, and the title track among the most enjoyable and heartaching singles. So seeing that it got all this critical acclaim and it couldn’t translate to commercial returns, it’s easy to feel sympathetic with why she is pushing in a more commercial direction if she has any hope at breaking out. So, in theory, I would understand why she’s doing so.

    On the other hand, just as I refuse to give free passes to recording artists just because one is a female and it is a man’s world right now on country radio, I refuse to tweak the grading curve just because a critically-acclaimed artist wants mainstream recognition if the respective single doesn’t stand up well enough on its own. And, simply put, “On To Something Good” isn’t even as good as other recent radio-friendly attempts among female artists like Lucy Hale’s “Lie A Little Better” or Katie Armiger’s singles.

    Part of the problem here is that this sounds like a calculated step more than anything. Ashley Monroe wants that mainstream airplay, but she also doesn’t want to wander TOO far outside her sound to where she gets painted a shameless sellout. So what we’re left with is a frustrating, divided effort that’s too mundane to keep the fans she gained with her last album happy, and not catchy enough to appease those with a steady radio diet. In other words, it’s a lose-lose situation.

    But back to the song itself.

    Again, a broken record of a trend this past year appears to be overly sterile production undermining many respective releases to the degree they become anonymous and forgettable. The drum machines are obnoxiously distracting, Monroe’s emotive and sweet delivery is buried in the mix and there’s no swell in the chorus that matches such a buoyant title.

    Lyrically, I’d say its the strongest aspect of this single. She does succumb to some pseudo-inspirational cliches, but there’s nothing embarrassing at play here and even though it doesn’t stand up to most of “Like A Rose”, it’s still refreshing compared to most of what’s saturating the Top 60 of the Country Airplay chart in the meantime.

    But here’s another problem. Thematically it follows the exact same vein as “Like A Rose” highlighting how adversity and personal tribulation has ultimately made her bloom like a rose. And that song really floored me in how the quivering, gentle ache in her voice, coupled with a production that gave her intimate vocals room to breathe, gave the impression the scars she bears still haven’t fully mended and are fresh on her heart. Here, in contrast, she sounds emotionally divested from the material. She may say she has been one of those who have been worn and faded by the rain, but there’s no inflection and ache in her delivery that confirms this. She sings of how she’s not sure how or where she is headed now, but her vocals fail to articulate that uncertainty. The nuanced interpreting is phased out in favor of more generalized swell and emotional narrowness.

    *

    Between this and Kacey’s Musgraves’ latest single “Biscuits” (also underwhelming to my ears)………………………2015 is off to a rather sad start. Not as bad as the former half of 2014 thus far in terms of the total terrible content hitting radio, but more to do with expectations being missed considerably among artists we count on delivering. It’s been a distressingly flat year so far.

    Ashley, here’s my advice to you. I understand why you want mainstream airplay, but you need to take an approach that has more personality, energy and is faithful to the sound of the genre. Give Lucy Hale’s “Road Between” a listen. That is a criminally underrated album of 2014 much like your criminally underrated (commercially) effort of 2013 was, and does such an excellent job showing how you can produce some of the most mainstream-accessible pop-country and still keep your integrity as a recording artist intact. “Road Between” was also impressive to my ears in that each track had a distinctive flavor to its sound and, in the songwriting, mostly succeeded at conveying nuance in youthful relationships. Take some notes from this effort, and then come back and see me.

    As for my grade………………..that’s a bit challenging. This is still better than 70% of what else is out there, and I want to caution against devaluing this single just because Ashley Monroe disappointed me as an artist and failed to meet my expectations (which were admittedly high). But as a song itself, despite having respectable lyrics and avoiding the worser hyper-trends………it just isn’t sticking to me and is marred by milquetoast production that also diminishes her vocal potency.

    You know, I’m going to perhaps be a little more generous and give her a strong 5 to a weak 6 on this one. Mostly because if we’re going to have more cliches on mainstream country airwaves, I’d prefer it to be with lyrics like these instead of “Take Your Time” or remaining embers of “bro-country”. And at least what she’s doing doesn’t come across as disingenuous, but rather a mess.

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    • Josh Schott February 28, 2015 / 10:03 pm

      Well said Noah. I think you nailed it with it being divided between commercial appeal and Monroe staying true to herself. This song could have been better, but it also could’ve been worse.

      And I’m glad you heard Hale’s album. I was surprised how much I liked it when I reviewed it. Now granted it wasn’t a great album, but a good album. I think though it showed she has a lot of potential and the best is yet to come. I hope more people give her chance because she isn’t like other actresses that have tried country music.

      Back to Ashley, I really think this single will be an anomaly compared to the rest of the album. I refuse to believe an entire Vince Gill produced album could be this average. I hope Ashley can make something that appeals to radio and the roots of country.

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      • NoahHibiscusEaton March 1, 2015 / 1:47 am

        I mentioned Lucky Hale’s album multiple times here because it serves as an excellent proving ground as to what an all-around solid pop-country experimentation done right sounds like……….a roadmap, if you will, for others who are looking for a good example of something that straddles the pop and country divide without sounding forced or compromised.

        I loved that album (I would honestly grade it 7.5 out of 10). Firstly, Hale acts her youthful age on the album by having songs that reflect the nuance and ambiguity that comes with youth, but she is also smart with song selection and has songs that reflect being wise beyond her years and has relationship songs that show more maturity than most male A and B artists are churning out in the meantime.

        And the sound is genuinely a pop-country hybridization. It isn’t “pop-country” in the vein of interloping generic pop music into the genre and merely stamping a token banjo underneath the mix. No, much of her album reminds me of 90’s pop-country in the vein of Shania Twain before her major commercial crossover. And while I get her girlish (please understand I don’t mean that in a sexist way, but simply the way girly is often defined as a vocal style) vocals won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, I think she has a strong voice that also reflects her buoyant, naive and, yet, confident youth.

        *

        Mark of Spectrum Pulse (who also praised Lucky Hale’s album) said it all when he said Lucy Hale gets pop-country right better than Taylor Swift ever did (and I don’t dislike Taylor Swift as much as I lament her becoming more mechanized each era).

        Anyway, I apologize for digressing there, but I only brought up Lucy Hale because she has the right idea at striking a genuine balance between the two genres and coming out sounding like the best of both worlds. Ashley Monroe may benefit from some of her approach (I say this surely not expecting Monroe to go quite as pop-country as Hale), as would Kelsea Ballerini and RaeLynn.

        Assuming Cassadee Pope’s career isn’t already DOA, this lesson also applies to her. I see potential in her. She has a pretty solid vocal and there were moments on “Frame By Frame” where the song selection also showed promise. “11” especially stood out as a heartaching, intimate moment that was unfortunately surrounded by some forgettable (albeit inoffensive) filler. The problem was there was too much filler on her album, and the album was hardly country at all.

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    • Scotty J February 28, 2015 / 10:38 pm

      Saw an article or maybe it was a comment from someone recently stating that basically the major labels whether through atrophy or incompetence have simply lost the ability to develop a successful female act. This problem runs all the way through the process from signing and committing resources to the right acts to picking the right songs to finding a unique and identifiable sound to marketing the act to appeal to a wide base of fans.

      And as you say Noah I don’t think it does any good in the long run to sugarcoat things just because everybody wants more female success. All that ends up happening then is encouraging mediocrity. It really has become quite a perplexing situation.

      Liked by 1 person

      • NoahHibiscusEaton March 1, 2015 / 5:24 pm

        Ha! That’s what I just said in the Kelsea Ballerini thread just now before noticing your latest reply here! 😉

        I said that while I believe affirmative action has a place in some contexts, especially just as the Civil Rights Movement was picking up and in other extenuating circumstances…………….I do NOT believe affirmative action is how the obvious female artist crisis should be resolved……………..mostly for the exact reason you just stated: encouraging mediocrity.

        Look, I prefer what the females of the mainstream genre have been turning out over their male counterparts throughout the course of these past five years on average (even though, this year, that gap has narrowed considerably due to improvements among what leading males are releasing and abysmal efforts among women who previously offered solid efforts). But let’s be clear: affirmative action is most unlikely to result in the likes of, say, Brandy Clark, Caitlin Rose and even Kacey Musgraves getting more airplay. The females that would most benefit are those that appeal more to the commercial aspirations of the format as opposed to critical acclaim and artistry.

        *

        At any rate, 2015 has been a frustratingly flat year thus far.

        While there haven’t been as many outright terrible songs saturating the chart like this time last year, it has been marred nonetheless by disappointments among artists we expect to deliver solid return efforts.

        Instead, Ashley Monroe returned with this lackadaisical offering. Kacey Musgraves has just returned with a middling, predictable and underwhelming “Biscuits” that lyrically recycles the “Follow Your Arrow” formula she has been beating into the ground. Gary Allan, one of the most beloved top-tier male artists here, has just come back with a gravely disappointing “Hungover Tonight” that sounds like an overproduced poor man’s “Just Got Started Lovin’ You”. The Eli Young Band, who I’m not particularly excited about but is regarded by many as a consistent, enjoyable Texas country success story, have just released their worst single to date with the overproduced jalopy that is “Turn It On” (you can hardly recognize Eli’s vocals on that song).

        Granted we’re only two months into 2015, but if they’re any indication………..it’s going to be a gravely underwhelming, though not historically terrible, year

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      • Scotty J March 1, 2015 / 8:11 pm

        Yeah you’re right about the Kacey Musgraves song it’s beginning to appear that she is kind of a one trick pony even though I don’t think she is. Why go with another song where we get lectured? That is not what she needs to release to go to the next level.

        Back to the point about rewarding mediocrity. The one big area where the major labels have changed is they seem to have no sense of career building anymore especially for female acts. If their first single doesn’t hit big then they are fortunate if they get a second and then it’s goodbye time. For a couple of examples from the past Reba McEntire first hit the country chart as a 21 year old in 1976 and didn’t have her first top ten until her 11th single in 1980 and didn’t have her first #1 until her 17th single in 1983. She was given the chance to grow and improve as an artist and she went on to have a HOF career. Another example is Tim McGraw debut album ‘Welcome To The Club’ was a total flop but he got another chance and it was a huge hit and off he went. I would almost guarantee that any new act with that level of ‘failure’ out of the box like those two would be dropped from their labels in this age.

        So sometimes artists grow and improve if they are given the chance but in our NOW! NOW! NOW! society that just isn’t allowed to happen. Instead they just cycle through to the next one and so on and so on.

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