Loretta Lynn may not be the greatest country performer of all time (though she’s definitely up there), but she seems to have had the greatest influence, as the genre’s recent years have shown. Without Lynn, Miranda Lambert, Elizabeth Cook and Kacey Musgraves probably wouldn’t be performing. Even if they were, they’d probably be influenced more by a lesser performer, and their music might not be as powerful.
Lynn was a strong woman who didn’t hold back her strength for the sake of commerciality, and yet she remained incredibly popular (somehow, she made a hit song about birth-control pills in 1975). Dolly Parton may have asked Jolene not to take her man but, five years earlier, Lynn was confronting her own Jolene with not a plead, but with a threat, in “Fist City.” Tammy Wynette sang,
“If you love him, you’ll forgive him”; Lynn sang, “If you want that kind of love, well you don’t need none of mine.” Lynn made it possible for country to take a more progressive, feminist, even liberal direction, and she did it without sacrificing tunefulness.
With Ashley Monroe’s “Like a Rose” and Kacey Musgraves’ “Same Trailer Different Park,” 2013 is
already showing Loretta Lynn influence in full bloom.
Although she first began performing in 2005 and released her debut album in 2009, Ashley Monroe first gained a following as one-third of Pistol Annies, the country group whose most famous member was Miranda Lambert herself. The band’s debut album “Hell on Heels” was one of the most undeniable LPs of 2011, and easily my all-time favorite studio album in the genre.
It would be easy to chalk up the entire success of “Hell on Heels” to Lambert and her producer Frank Liddell, since they already had reputations when Pistol Annies formed. Anybody who read the writing credits on the songs would know otherwise, though. There was a reason “Hell on Heels” was superior to every album Lambert had previously released, and it was because she had found two other superb songwriters to help bring out her best qualities, as well as bring their own qualities to the table.
Of the other two, it wasn’t Monroe that I expected to come through as a solo performer, but Angelina Presley. Presley had two solo writing credits on the record, one of them being the irresistible “Lemon Drop.” I’m still anticipating a fine solo record from her, but Monroe has released one first, and she definitely exceeded my expectations.
“Like a Rose” opens with a title track that shows a very emotional side of Monroe. “Ran off with what’s his name when I turned 18/Got me out of North Dakota, but it did not change a thing/I left it in the yard, all covered up with snow/And I came out like a rose.” It’s an incredibly vulnerable track, and starts the album on a fairly sad note. But it’s also very inspiring, and thus it gets the album started on the right foot.
The second track is the finest moment on “Like a Rose,” “Two Weeks Late,” the most clever pregnancy song I’ve ever heard and, next to “Papa Don’t Preach,” the catchiest too. The other biggest highlight is “Weed Instead of Roses,” a hilarious and wicked track that manages to roll marriage, S&M, heavy metal and dope all up into one joint of a song (rather than one bouquet of a song).
“Like a Rose” definitely surprised me. Every track grows with each listen, including the Blake Shelton duet that I initially hated (it has a really cringe-worthy “50 Shades of Grey” reference). As with “Hell on Heels,” no track grants Monroe a solo songwriting credit, which is disappointing but not a big deal. She put so much of her personality into this record that it’s almost like she was solely responsible for its creation.
Like Loretta Lynn, Monroe is strong. But, on this record, she also seems tired; tired of her late period, tired of her late rent, tired of her boring marriage and she’s tired of being heartbroken. She knows she’ll make it through it all, though. After all, she’s been through so much already, and she’s still come out like a rose.
Key tracks: “Two Weeks Late,” “Weed Instead of Roses,” “You Got Me” and “Like a Rose.”
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