NASHVILLE, Tenn. – John Grady recently handed Ashley Monroe a box filled with copies of her new album, Like a Rose. Hed rushed out of the building and caught her in the parking lot. The arrival of the CDs was a milestone moment for the country singer-songwriter and her manager, the culmination of nearly a decade of work together.
To be honest, Grady was a little misty.
Not Monroe. She tossed the box in her car, put the vehicle in drive and headed right on down the road. Just like shes always done. Throw out any obstacle and Monroe will deal with it.
Im just now learning that there is a master plan, Monroe said. Because theres been many times where Ive looked up at the sky and thought, Really? What am I doing? What am I supposed to be doing? But now Im seeing all the good and the bad that Ive lived and experienced just kind of come together. OK, all that was supposed to happen.
Witness the glowing reviews and warm reception shes received for Like a Rose, co-produced by Vince Gill, a modern take on traditional country music.
Shes a member of the country music supertrio Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert.
And what about that blingy engagement ring from Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks?
Seems like everythings wrapped up with a nifty bow for Monroe at age 26. But track her story back to when she was 14 and you get a picture of just how far shes come.
Monroe lost her father to pancreatic cancer when she was 13, and for a while, her mother to grief. Thats when she started writing songs.
I thought, Ive got to get this out, she said. It was so heavy and so sad and everything had changed so drastically.
By 14, she was trying to pull her Knoxville, Tenn.-based family back together. She did so by taking a bold step.
I said, Weve got to start over. We cant be in this town. Its going to poison us. Everywhere we go people are going to be like, Are you OK? or judging us because we werent making the healthiest of decisions, any of us, Monroe said.
It was just grief. We were just saturated in grief. I said, Weve got to move to Nashville. Weve got to start over. Weve got to get a new scene and Ill write every day and well make this work. Weve got to make it work.
And for a while, it did. Only 15 when she started to haunt Music Row, she caught the attention of songwriter Brett James almost immediately and soon met Grady, who was then president of Sony Music Nashville. Grady guided her into her first record deal and in 2007, Monroe finished her first album, Satisfied.
However, Satisfied was caught in the gravitational forces of a merger and was never released by the label. She put it on iTunes in 2009 and jokes that 500 people have bought it over the years.
Monroe returned to writing and worked with everyone whod take her call. She didnt limit herself to country. Shed pop up all over town, writing with Gill or Lambert or Guy Clark. She recently teamed up with rock n singer-guitarist Brendan Benson to write a song for the TV show Nashville. And Jack White has pulled her in to work on projects with Ricky Skaggs and Wanda Jackson.
Monroes got the duet Bruises with Pat Monahan of Train and is scheduled to tour with that band this summer – after she releases an album with Pistol Annies this spring. That group is the result of her networking abilities and her late-night inspiration to introduce Lambert to Angaleena Presley by phone, a moment of instant connection among three powerful songwriters and personalities.
Its crazy, Monroe said. The other day I wrote down everything and I was like, Wow, Ive done a lot of things! Its amazing. It blows my mind. But it also makes me happy because its bringing all these things together.
Bits and pieces of those experiences can be heard on Like a Rose, which veers from the deep sadness of the title track and Two Weeks Late and Used to the bawdiness delivered with a wink in Weed Instead of Roses and You Aint Dolly (and You Aint Porter), a back-and-forth duet with Lamberts husband, Blake Shelton, that closes the album.
Gill met Monroe not long after she came to town. She co-wrote a couple of songs on his Grammy-winning album Guitar Slinger, and he co-wrote a few songs on Like a Rose.
Why did he decide to work with her?
Well, she writes songs like Guy Clark and sings like Dolly Parton, two pretty great reasons right there, Gill said with his mellow chuckle. One would be enough, but to have both, I thought, `Yeah this might be a great way to spend time. You love being around the most gifted people if you get the opportunity, and I honestly believe shes of that brand, of that ilk, whatever is a good word, you know?
Everything about her is undeniable.