Best known for her critically-acclaimed solo albums and her work with Miranda Lambert and Angeleena Presley as one-third of Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe's recently released "Sparrow' is a departure, a somber, sober look at life (complete with a string section), produced by cutting edge producer David Cobb, known for his work with Chris Stapleton, Jamey Johnson, Jason Isbell and Brandi Carlille.
My review of Miranda Lambert's new and ambitous double album.
Blake Shelton's 2013 hit single "Boys 'Round Here" with cameos from Pistol Annies (including wife Miranda Lambert) was a huge hit, not surprisingly. One of its most memorable lines was one that went "chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco--spit." The single, more of a good timey anthem than any attempt to hit a serious note, is typical of Shelton, who has managed to walk a much smarter line between endless stupid party songs and more serious songs, one reason I consider him among the smartest singers out there today beneath the good ol' boy persona and alligator boots.
Yes, there's more here than country and with that field I include quite a few women in this list. No apologies, but I have a good reason. Given the pitiful party-beer-party-hot girls-party-beach party trash coming out of Music Row these days, the better material to my ear this year came from female acts who seem to have more interesting things to sing about.
Singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe hails from a hallowed fountainhead of Tennessee country talent: the Knoxville-East Tennessee region that gave the world plenty of stars who've lasted. Roy Acuff, Chet Atkins, Don Gibson, Carl Smith and Carl Butler were among the earliest. The music from that region was often aggressive, even if you factor in recent stars from the region, Dolly Parton and Kenny Chesney among them
Satisfied, Monroe's debut album on Sony, appeared in 2006. Well, sort of. The music was fine, but things didn't work out. Two singles, one a duet with Ronnie Dunn, charted anemically and Sony only released the album digitally, the only way it's still available. After recording a self-produced set with Trent Dabbs, her fortunes seemed uncertain.
Move ahead to 2011. Enter Pistol Annies.
Yes, I can say some nasty things about certain current acts, but there are those who've kept the quality high and the music real. Miranda Lambert has been one of them and so have the Pistol Annies, made up of Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. I weighed in on their debut album Hell On Heels back in 2011. And in the next week, I'll be reviewing Monroe's new solo album for the PG, and the new album closer to the release date.