Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s ‘The Blade’

Ashley Monroe The Blade

Back in 2013 I came across a lot of great new music, specifically a lot of great country music. The most notable artists I came across were Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, The Mavericks and Ashley Monroe. The most under the radar artist of the group was undoubtedly Monroe. To this point she was most well-known for being one-third of the Pistol Annies. That year she released her debut solo album Like A Rose and captured the attention of traditional country music critics and fans everywhere. It was certainly a favorite listen of mine’s from that year, so I was definitely anticipating her sophomore album. This time around her label Warner Brothers Nashville has been a lot more involved and it shows, something I’ll elaborate on later in the review. One good sign to see for this album coming in was Vince Gill and Justin Niebank producing it, as both produced Monroe’s first album. So this gave me high hopes, despite the lackluster lead single. So does The Blade live up to expectations? Well in some ways it does and others it does not.

Speaking of the aforementioned lackluster single, “On To Something Good” starts the album off, which I reviewed when it was first released. And my thoughts really haven’t changed on it. From my original review: “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 sound of drums plays in “I Buried Your Love Alive,” a southern gothic inspired song from the theme to the instrumentation. The song has this vibe hanging over it throughout it. It’s a heartbreak song where the woman can’t get over her lost love and does everything she can to get rid of the memory. While the theme and southern gothic inspiration is good, I have a couple of problems with this song. First it’s overproduced, as the instrumentation is too busy and the occasional echoing of Monroe’s voice is annoying. Another problem with this song is Monroe doesn’t show enough emotion to make the song connect. Not to mention I feel she didn’t go deep enough lyrically. This is a decent song that could have been great. There are some similar problems on the next song, “Bombshell.” The premise of the song is intriguing, as it’s about a woman waiting and figuring out the perfect time to drop a bombshell on her boyfriend. That bombshell is she no longer loves him. The song kept building and building to this moment and when it came I felt underwhelmed. I was expecting an explosion of emotion, but didn’t get it. The storytelling was here, but not the emotion.

Monroe relies on Kacey Musgraves’ like platitudes on “Weight of The Load.” It’s a song about helping a significant other shoulder the weight of the load in a loving relationship. It’s a little too bland and polished for my tastes. What’s even more disappointing is that Monroe and Vince Gill wrote this song. I expect more when these two write a song. Also once again where is the emotional connection? This is starting to become a running theme on this album. The album’s title track follows this and finally we get a glimpse of the Ashley Monroe I enjoyed on her debut album Like A Rose. It’s a heartbreak song where the man has left his woman and the hook of the song describes the breakup perfectly. The end of the relationship is described as the swinging of a blade. As Monroe sings from the female perspective, “You got it by the handle and I caught it by the blade.” This creates the perfect imagery in the listeners’ head and credit to the songwriters Marc Beeson, Jamie Floyd and Allen Shamblin.

The piano and acoustic guitar driven “Winning Streak” is a fast-paced song about being stuck in a losing game. As Monroe sings, “If losing’s game I’m on a winning streak.” This is just a fun and simple country song. It should be noted that Monroe wrote this song with Jessi Alexander (co-writer of the Lee Brice song “I Drive Your Truck”) and Chris Stapleton and is one of two songs this trio wrote on the album. “From Time To Time” reminds me of something you would hear on 90s country radio. I want to say it’s the production that makes me think this, as I immediately got this vibe when I heard the song. It’s very easy to listen to upon the surface, but when you listen closer I’m just not sure what this song is going for. It’s vague and not sure what it wants to be. Monroe is once again joined by two notable songwriters on a song, this time Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmermann. You know them as Striking Matches. This trio also writes two songs together on The Blade.

Monroe goes back to the platitudes on “If Love Was Fair.” This is your run of the mill love song. Part of the chorus is from 1 Corinthians 13:4. You know the one bible verse that is repeated at every single wedding? I just don’t understand this light and breezy approach that a lot of the songs on this album take. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” though drops this approach and is one of the most serious songs on the album. It’s a love song with some actual punch behind it and something that will create emotion in the listener. Monroe’s vocals are allowed to shine and the instrumentation is brilliant between the piano and pedal steel guitar. This is my favorite song on the album. The second co-write of the album between Monroe and Striking Matches, “Dixie,” is next. Monroe sings about being sick of Dixieland and wanting to get the hell out of there, as her experiences there have driven her away. It’s an intriguing song and kind of bold, as you don’t hear many songs about being sick of the south, especially from mainstream country artists. Just for this alone I’m kind of impressed with the song.

“If The Devil Don’t Want Me” is the second Monroe-Alexander-Stapleton co-written song of the album. Monroe wonders throughout this song of where she’ll be going if the devil doesn’t want her and she can’t find the light. This is very much a traditional country song, from the lyrics to the sound. It’s right in Monroe’s wheelhouse and another highlight of the album. It’s a real big shocker that both Stapleton co-writes are good, huh? The traditionally arranged “Mayflowers” is another song that proves Monroe needs to stick with this sound and stay away from the pop country sound towards the beginning of the album. This is a sweet love song where the woman vows to bring the love back to their relationship and uses the metaphor of “April showers bring May flowers” to convey the point. It’s a song you have to hear for yourself to truly appreciate. The 13-song album comes to a conclusion with “I’m Good At Leavin’,” a song with plenty of fiddle and steel guitar (also co-written with Alexander and Miranda Lambert). Monroe sings about how she’s good at leaving and basically she’s a rambling woman who can’t stay in a relationship for too long. I’ve always wondered why female country artists never take on the rambling man theme that male artists always use and kudos to Monroe for doing it. It’s another solid song from the Pistol Annies singer.

Ashley Monroe’s The Blade is an up and down listen throughout. The album starts out with a lot of pop country songs that are lightweight all-around and make me wonder what happened to Monroe. Luckily, the second half is more in line with what we heard on her debut album and that’s a traditional country arrangement. While there were plenty of songs that caught my attention in a good way, this is a clear step down from Like A Rose. To me what ultimately sunk this album down was there were too many cooks in the kitchen on this album. Warner Nashville stuck their fingers in this album, whereas they let Monroe do her own thing before. I’m pretty sure they were the ones pushing for more pop country, as they’ve pushed her for radio play this time around and didn’t with Like A Rose. Not to mention this album is too long at 13 songs. I would’ve cut four songs from this album (“On To Something Good,” “Weight of the Load,” “From Time To Time” and “If Love Was Fair”) and then added a duet with Vince Gill as the 10th song. Seriously, he’s right there producing and you don’t have a duet with him? This is a missed opportunity. Really that sums up this entire album: it was a missed opportunity. The Blade is just good, but it could have been so much more.

Grade: 7/10

 

29 thoughts on “Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s ‘The Blade’

  1. Zack July 24, 2015 / 11:13 am

    I’m pretty sure that Love & Theft were originally supposed to record “The Blade”. In this interview from Taste Of Country: (who knew they’d be good for something?): http://tasteofcountry.com/love-and-theft-interview-heartbreak/

    Anyway, I was wondering if I should buy this or not. There’s other females I’d like to check out like Logan Brill, and Courtney Patton, so idk. A 7/10 isn’t too convincing haha! I told myself I’d wait and see based on your review, so I’m glad I didn’t just jump in too it.

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    • Raymond July 24, 2015 / 11:16 am

      Hey Zach are you gonna review it.

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      • Zack July 24, 2015 / 11:27 am

        Most likely.

        I may wait anyway though since I’m seeing her with David Nail and Little Big Town next month, which means I’ll probably be able to pick up a physical copy of the album at the merch booth. I greatly prefer a physical copy over digital, guess I’m weird haha!

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    • Josh Schott July 24, 2015 / 11:28 am

      I’ve read that about Love & Theft too. I think they could have pulled the song off, but it suits Monroe really well. I could see a really good music video coming out of it too.

      I’m iffy myself on getting it. Like I said, Like A Rose was clearly a better album than this one. I still haven’t listened to Logan Brill yet. Patton’s album is pretty good.

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  2. Raymond July 24, 2015 / 11:15 am

    A step down yes. But for me Ashley Monroe’s voice no matter what just pulls me in and I love that. She didn’t fully deliver but a solid album. I’m thinking an 8/10. Only thing different is I still like Buried Your Love Alive and still like On To Something Good. I don’t think Ashley Monroe needs radio airplay cause I imagine the album will sell well.

    Josh btw Ashley Monroe is apparently releasing the title track to radio as the next song I heard.

    Shame you guys have a mountain stack of reviews for mainstream. There’s new Jennifer Nettles, David Nail, Cassadee Pope, James Otto, new artist Josh Dorr. Martina McBride is also featured in a new song as well.

    I do imagine though this album for lack of mainstream competition get both Grammy and CMA nominations.

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    • Josh Schott July 24, 2015 / 11:36 am

      Oh yeah this still a solid album. It just could have been even better. But hey it happens. I’ve heard about “The Blade” getting airplay. We’ll see if radio programmers have warmed up at all to playing more females. I’m doubtful, but we’ll see.

      Eh having a stack of reviews is never a bad thing. It can feel overwhelming, but it’s better than having nothing to review. Pope isn’t going for airplay until the fall, so there’s plenty of time to get to it. And I want to see how Otto and Dorr do on the charts before reviewing them.

      Right now I think the following albums have great chances at Grammy & CMA nominations: Monroe’s The Blade, ZBB’s Jekyll + Hyde, Stapleton’s Traveller (best selling album among new artists this year), Kacey’s Pageant Material, Jackson’s Angels & Alcohol and Reba’s Love Somebody. That’s not a bad group at all and much better than last year. I would be pretty happy with all of these albums getting nominated. When ZBB is your worst candidate, you know you have a good field.

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      • Raymond July 24, 2015 / 11:45 am

        But you’ll surely review Jennifer Nettles.

        I don’t think radio and Ashley Monroe mesh well. The female newcomers I think radio wants to play are Kelsea, Cam or Mickey Guyton ( They recognize her talent but Better Than You Left Me didn’t test well at all.

        I am curious what would’ve you give Reba’s album.

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        • Josh Schott July 24, 2015 / 12:00 pm

          Yeah. 8/10

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  3. Scotty J July 24, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    It really is a strange position that some of these performers find themselves in. They are not big time enough to get automatic airplay but they have talent and enough integrity to try and put out a truly quality record. We saw this with Kellie Pickler where she put out a great traditional record that didn’t produce any hits but garnered much critical praise so then the next time around she tried to mainstream it up a little and what happened? The traditional fans were a little disappointed and the mainstream still didn’t care. It is mostly a female problem but I think Chris Stapleton kind of has this problem too as he has written hits for others and is on a major label but is also straddling that line.

    This is what I was talking about in my comment on The Hodgepodge thread the other day. I don’t think it’s possible to hit on traditional sounding, critically loved and mainstream radio success anymore.

    So what is an artist like Monroe, Pickler, or Stapleton to do career wise?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Josh Schott July 24, 2015 / 3:13 pm

      Basically they have to make a choice. Either fame, mainstream success and less quality music or be a critical darling with quality music and be unknown to mainstream. It shouldn’t be this way, but it’s a sad reality.

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  4. Kevin Davis July 24, 2015 / 3:51 pm

    I’m really happy to see “Has Anybody Ever Told You” on this album. She performed it at the Opry last year (still on YouTube), and it’s a stunning performance. It highlights everything that Monroe does perfectly with her vocals — and is proof that she is suited for pedal steel strains, not beats.

    “Dixie” is definitely a surprise — lyrically. I’m not a fan of it, not because it criticizes the South but because it’s not particularly clever in how it does so. And, it’s yet another example — as you highlight throughout your review — of the emotionless character of much of this album. It makes no connection with the listener, at least not this listener. Also, if you’re gonna criticize the South, you might want to do it with some balance and humor and wit or something! This is only going to put off most fans.

    In sum, after streaming the album, I agree that it is (on the whole) a letdown and a tragic waste of Monroe’s talent — especially her vocal talent. There is scarcely anyone today who can carry emotion through her voice the way that Ashley does, and yet we only hear it once or twice on this album! Such a shame.

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  5. Megan Conley July 24, 2015 / 10:59 pm

    “Dixie” was actually my favorite song on this album. The fact that she had the audacity to cut it helped it, and I did like the lyrics. It is a step down for her, but it is still a good album with several great songs, and I have seen several commenters asking whether they should get it. You should definitely check it out. There are songs on here that shouldn’t be missed because they got mixed in with lesser material.

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