Ashley Monroe - Rosegold
Mountainrose Sparrow/Thirty Tigers
With her fifth album, Nashville singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe dives into dream pop templates with expansive bass grooves, synth lines, rich choral backgrounds and vocal hooks, her voice being mainly low-pitched in comparison to her earlier more country-inflected recordings that hinted at twang rather than a lavish sheen. With its mix of hypnotic and moving songs, an artful structure and a way with words, she delivers a quality piece of work that I found enthralling. Due to her background as a songwriter, who has provided songs for such country acts as Carrie Underwood, Travis Tritt, Miranda Lambert, Vince Gill, Jason Aldean and others and being an integral part of the Nashville country community, this album is being wrongly marketed towards country and Americana music fans and media. I feel it is important that I state emphatically, here and now, that ROSEGOLD is not in any way remotely country. Ashley never intended for it to be considered country or Americana and it is lazy marketing and promotion to be taking this music down that route and a disservice to the artist. So please, ladies and gentlemen, if we must have genres, can we at least try and stick a little closer to them.
It is possible that Ashley took this left turn into new territory following her unsustainable 17-year on-off relationship with Nashville’s major labels and the anti-female stance of mainstream country radio. Whatever the reasoning, it is a bold move that, artistically, has paid off magnificently. With help from some stalwart musical friends Mikey Reaves, Jake Mitchell, Jordan Reynolds, Ben West and long-time producer/co-writer Tyler Cain she delivers a sensitive set of songs, rich with heartfelt emotion and a strikingly tender touch. While the majority of songs are not hook-driven, they’re engaging all the same. Though ‘repeated listens’ and ‘grower record’ are clichés, they apply to an album that does not truly find its footing and make an impact until roughly halfway through the third listen. Throughout the glowing project, Ashley has a voice like that of a songbird, whether it’s floating like a peaceful wind on Flying, where she poetically chronicles the struggle of two people trying to hold on to a fractured relationship, or gently touches one’s heart with I Mean It, capturing the vulnerable feeling of constantly longing for someone.
She conveys the depths of love in thought-provoking ways, losing the heartache and sadness that typified many of her past songs and replacing them, lyrically, with hopeful, optimistic and joyful messages, anchored by affirmation that she can and will have a happy and contented life. This change in approach is all there in the delicate Silk to which she brings an airy beauty to the complexity of being in a fulfilling romantic relationship enhanced by heavenly choral backgrounds and subtle beats. The lavish Gold continues in the same romantic mood, the track evocatively sitting like a small pocket of warmth in an otherwise grey world. There’s an insistent rhythm at work throughout Groove, with hints of hip-hop secretly lurking beyond the cinematic strings as her vocals seemingly duet with the tight rhythm section. New beginnings are central to this album’s sublime message as in ‘Til It Breaks, in which she needs to overcome past turmoil and heartache to reach a new plateau of happiness. She closes with The New Me, an acoustic beauty in which she realises that she’s now able to move on and is ready to love and leave the past firmly in the past.
Frank and gratifying at the same time, Ashley’s tightly structured pop is an invigorating take on an evergreen sound. An extremely winsome blend of chill-wave and adult-pop, her words build a foundation for a heartfelt project that’s steeped in purity, poignancy and organic emotion, just like her expansive repertoire of music that’s been moving fans for years.