By Stephen L. Betts
Filed under: Exclusive, InterviewsOne of the perks of being a music journalist is the opportunity to hear a new album sometimes months before it is ever available to the general public. While the best possible result of that perk is being able to rave about the music when you have the chance to sit down with the artist to talk about (let alone telling absolutely everyone you know -- or don't know -- how great you think an album is), it's rare, in this journalist's case, anyway, to react to something so positively that raving about it simply isn't enough. But what kind of gesture to show an artist your appreciation is simple and meaningful without seeming insincere, or worse, downright creepy? Those were some of the thoughts I struggled with right before I met up with Ashley Monroe at her record label's offices to talk about her stunning masterpiece, Like a Rose
, out today on Warner Bros. Records, and produced by country legend Vince Gill with Justin Niebank. I thought about it, then, naturally, it hit me. What woman wouldn't like to receive a rose? Being a music journalist, however, such grand gestures are a bit out of my price range. Plus, I wouldn't want to give the 26-year-old the wrong idea. She is, after all, engaged to Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks.I toyed with another thought, remembering that another of the songs on the album is the hilarious "Weed Instead of Roses," in which Ashley asserts that she'd rather receive the former instead of the latter. With a job I preferred to keep, and no desire to write from a jail cell, I suddenly spotted on my a desk a single, solitary rose. Not a live flower, but a bacon-scented synthetic one. Knowing Ashley's gift for humor, something that shines throughout the album, her first since coming to the attention of country fans as one-third of the trio Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley), I thought, "Why not?" And so, as we sat down to talk, I handed her my token of appreciation for creating what has quickly become simply one of my favorite albums of the past decade. She smelled it and realized what it was then let out a hearty laugh saying, "That's awesome. It's 'like' a rose."I take it you're pretty used to things that are sort of unexpected, considering the kind of career you've had so far?
Yeah! The first record I made when I was 17. Labels merged and plans didn't work out, but plans never work out as planned. But I never stopped making music. I never had a backup plan. I never thought maybe I should just write, or maybe I should ... I just kept going. I thank God that I didn't overthink it because there was a plan after all, for me to make another record and for it to be with Vince Gill, and here it is. And for the Annies. That was the most unexpected, unplanned, magnificently, beautifully-timed thing ever.