Ashley Monroe blossoms on 'Like a Rose'

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Entertainment,Music,Nancy Dunham

Sometimes the best plan is a little good luck, or so goes the saying.

It certainly seems to be just how Ashley Monroe, one-third the red-hot country trio Pistol Annies, went from a talented yet unknown singer-songwriter into one of the "It" girls of country music. True, Monroe hasn't had a major hit and found top stardom like her friend and Annies' bandmate Miranda Lambert, but she's getting there. Critics rave about her recent solo release, "Like a Rose."

"What's the point of a song if you can't be honest?" she told Chrissie Dickinson of the Chicago Tribune. "That's our job -- to just be raw, to really talk about things."

Although the Knoxville, Tenn., native is only 26, she has honed in on the key to that job as well as many veterans. That's shown in the music by Pistol Annies. Monroe, Lambert and Angaleena Presley made major noise with their debut album "Hell on Heels." The just-released sophomore album "Annie Up" gives listeners even more of what Randy Lewis of the Los Angeles Times called their "don't-get-mad-get-even attitude and country piety."

Onstage
Ashley Monroe opening for Don Williams
» Where: Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria
» When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
» Info: Sold out, though tickets may still be available through resellers; 202-397-SEAT; ticketmaster.com

Monroe takes that sound even further when she sings about suspicious minds in small towns and love lost. She also has plenty of musical fun, too, singing "You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter)" in a duet with Lambert's spouse, Blake Shelton.

Monroe knows plenty about emotional pain. Her dad died when she was 13. She and her mom moved to Nashville when Monroe was just 15 so she could try her luck at country music.

Although she had a publishing deal, recorded her own songs, and collaborated with everyone from Jack White to the rock band Train, solo recognition was elusive. Until now.

Her gorgeous soprano and sharp songwriting skills have culminated in a host of fans, including her producer, the much-honored Vince Gill. Monroe chose Gill because of her long-time admiration for him. She grew up listening to his music and told the Tribune that he was the person who most understood her voice.

As for Gill, he said that Monroe brought all the right elements to the studio to make the record a success.

It's like making a movie," he told the Chicago Tribune. "If you cast it great, it will be great. You get the best people to play the parts, then get out of the way. The soul is undeniable."

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Nancy Dunham

Examiner Correspondent
The Washington Examiner