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Ashley Monroe

Like A Rose – 2013 (Warner Nashville)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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CDs by Ashley Monroe

From the time the needle lands on the first groove of this album, with its plucky guitar and whirling accordion, until the raucous nod-and-a-wink of the roaring honky-tonk call-and-response of the final song, You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter), Ashley Monroe's pure country voice, reminiscent of Elizabeth Cook and Dolly Parton, grabs you.

Gilded in soft beauty of Vince Gill's and Michael Rhodes' thumping guitars and Paul Franklin's luscious steel licks, the title track, written by Monroe, Jon Randall, and Guy Clark, reveals the harsh realities that lie just underneath life's surface. With some musical resemblance to Rick Nelson's Garden Party, Like a Rose chronicles the detours and obstacles along the road that leads away from a broken life to the promised land; in spite of all the disappointment, the singer blooms and flowers "like a rose."

The rollicking Two Weeks Late kicks off a country shuffle with opening licks resembling Hank Williams You Wrote My Life, a knowing riposte to all the voices telling her what's going to happen if she "lives in sin." The singer rips all the cliches - "I know the Bible says you're supposed to wait"; "If you don't have a ring he won't settle down" - as she both admits that they might be right, but also that she'll make her way just fine, thank you. In the no-holds-barred honky tonk tune, featuring John Jarvis' barrelhouse Jerry Lee Lewis-like piano, Weed Instead of Roses, the singer laments the dull routine into which her marriage has fallen and so advises her partner to "trade in the boxers for some sexy underwear" and "give me weed instead of roses/bring me whiskey 'stead of wine/'cause every puff, every shot you're looking better all the time." On the plaintive She's Driving Me Out of Your Mind, the singer achingly admits that she's losing her lover and that anything "worth saving has already died."

At the last minute, Monroe, who is one-third of Pistol Annies, added You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter), a duet with Blake Shelton she co-wrote with Gill; it's cute, but lacks the driving power of the rest of the album.

Monroe's powerful voice soars. Gorgeously produced, with an all-star lineup of musicians who never miss a note and deliver some delicious licks, this album deserves a wide hearing.