Monroe is a bit of a contradiction -- both a throwback to an earlier musical tradition, and an artist who may very well help to point the way for a new generation of female performers in Nashville.
She is already a well-known songwriter in Nashville, having written songs for Jason Aldean ("The Truth"), Miranda Lambert ("Heart Like Mine") and Carrie Underwood ("Flat on the Floor"). Her unusually strong song craft is at the heart of this collection, which features a variety of moods, tempos and subject matter. The album is refreshing in its refusal to conform to the bland, cutesy pop that Nashville has been serving up from females in recent years.
Of course, it doesn't hurt to surround yourself with good people. Monroe collaborated with Jon Randall and Guy Clark for the album's title track, an autobiographical tale of childhood woe that ultimately culminates with the hopeful line, "I came out like a rose." Monroe has a way of making pathos achingly enjoyable, as with "Two Weeks Late" and "The Morning After." Songs like "Used" and "You Got Me" display such a unique sensibility that it's almost hard to believe they've been included on a major label release in modern-day Nashville.
But though Monroe undoubtedly has a way with traditional, mournful ballads, she also displays a wicked sense of humor on tracks like "Weed Instead of Roses" -- which celebrates the efficacy of pot as a way to spice up a relationship -- and "You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)," a playful duet with Blake Shelton that draws on an old Nashville legend about Porter Waggoner that probably shouldn't be repeated here (let's put it this way: when she compares her would-be lover to the country legend by saying, "You're a whole lot shorter," she ain't talking about his height).
Vince Gill's understated production serves as the perfect bed for Monroe's pure, sweet Appalachian voice, providing just enough of an instrumental framework to bring the tracks alive, but keeping the focus on the strength of the songs instead of calling undue attention to the individual players. The result is an album so timeless that it is not only one of the best country albums of 2013 so far, it's also one of those rare albums that could be taken out of its context completely and dropped backward in time at virtually any point in the history of country music, and still be considered a classic.