If anyone came out of 2013 blooming like a gorgeous rose, it was Ashley Monroe. You knew her before as a hit songwriter, a best friend to Miranda Lambert and one-third of the trio Pistol Annies. However, after one listen to her critically-acclaimed solo album Like a Rose, she became even more.
She's more than a sidekick. And she is no one-trick pony. She is the stuff female icons are made of in country music.
With a deep, rich speaking voice that drifts into the purest, most tender soprano when she begins to sing, you're instantly captivated by her. And it's not just how she delivers a song. It's the entire package, including the incredibly profound lyrics she's written and the emotive lilt in her voice that kills you line by line.
And it's all on Like a Rose, so it's no surprise she closed out 2013 as a definitive tastemaker. After the album's release in March, the Washington Post deemed it "the first great album of the year," and Rolling Stone later named it the country album of the year. Billboard, American Songwriter, Spin, People and NPR can't seem to get enough of Monroe's music.
Perhaps the track making the most noise for Monroe at the moment is the cheeky "Weed Instead of Roses." Yep, she went there. But when you have a voice and creative drive like hers, you're almost obligated to push the envelope, no matter how controversial it may turn out to be.
And if that isn't good enough justification to simply flat-out say what you mean, you can always blame the album's producer, Vince Gill. When he first heard the song, Monroe said she was a little shocked that he was gunning for her to cut it.
"He said, 'You wrote this?'" Monroe told me. "I said, 'Yeah, yeah, I wrote that. It's funny.'
"He said, 'I'm not gonna produce this record unless you record this song.'
"I was, like, 'Vince! You're supposed to be wholesome. What's wrong with you?!' He has a sense of humor. ... So I did it, and I'm glad I did."
We are, too. At the end of the day, Monroe knows you can usually trust the opinion of a Country Music Hall of Fame member.
"I'll never not be star-struck when I see Vince Gill," Monroe said. "No matter how good of a friend he is to me, no matter how much he feels like family to me, when I see Vince Gill, I melt. I've always looked up to him, and I still do, and I always will."