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From Ballads To Romps, Ashley Monroe's 'The Blade' Is Timeless

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's be the first to listen to some country music. We call our feature First Listen because artists are debuting new work right here on our air. NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson have more on a new album from Ashley Monroe.

STEPHEN THOMPSON, BYLINE: For the last few weeks, I have had a country song stuck in my head. And this particular song is a ballad called "The Blade." And I often say about ballads if you can get a ballad stuck in your head, then it's probably a hit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE BLADE")

ASHLEY MONROE: (Singing) Now I know how you can sound so brave 'cause you caught it by the handle, baby, and I caught it by the blade.

ANN POWERS, BYLINE: That song absolutely gives me chills, too. It's Ashley Monroe, one of the treasures of Nashville right now. She's actually been writing songs since she was a teenager here in Nashville after moving here from Knoxville, Tenn. Though she's only in her late 20s, Ashley Monroe has many amazing collaborators. That's one of the reasons why her albums are so great. They have such seasoned players. And working with someone like Vince Gill, who co-produced this record, gives her that beautiful elegant sound that I love in a singer-songwriter.

THOMPSON: Yeah, it's also very versatile. I think, you know, you have this somber, beautiful ballad that's really rich in imagery. But you also have a song like "Winning Streak," which is this romp. And to me, like, that could've been a hit for Dolly Parton in the '80s.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WINNING STREAK")

MONROE: (Singing) I've got a good foundation on a bad reputation, got a floor I've been pacing and a broken heart breaking. In the game of fools, I'd be hard to beat. Yeah, losing's a game. I'm on a winning streak.

POWERS: I love that roadhouse piano. It's so Jerry Lee Lewis (laughter). That's a sound you often hear in Nashville. You know, some people may think of Ashley as a traditionalist. But really, the themes she touches upon are timeless. I mean, what's more timeless than trying to find love or having to end a love affair, which is what she sings about so exquisitely in this extended metaphor of a song called "Bombshell."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBSHELL")

MONROE: (Singing) Morning or midnight, it'll never be a good time to drop a bombshell.

GREENE: NPR Music's Ann Powers and Stephen Thompson talking about "The Blade" by Ashley Monroe as part of our series First Listen. You can hear that whole album right now at npr.org/music.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BOMBSHELL")

MONROE: (Singing) I can't love you anymore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.