Ashley Monroe is best known as Hippie Annie, one fringe-dressed third of the country supergroup the Pistol Annies. Even before she proved she could hold her own against bandmates Miranda Lambert and Angeleena Presley, which is certainly no small feat, the Knoxville-born Monroe had a short, strange career. Her label may have fumbled the release of her excellent 2007 debut, Satisfied, but she proved an adept networker as well as collaborator who has since worked with Trent Dabbs, Brendan Benson, Jack White and…uh, Train?
Thanks to the success of the Pistol Annies, Monroe finally has a new label and a new sophomore album, Like a Rose, co-produced by Vince Gill. Much like her debut, it makes a fine introduction to an engaging talent in country music. Faster tunes like “Monroe Suede” and “Weed Instead of Roses” reveal a rambunctious energy and a lively humor, and she holds her own against Blake Shelton on “You Ain’t Dolly (And You Ain’t Porter),” a lively duet about karaoke singers lowering their romantic standards. The album’s best moments, however, are the wounded ballads like “You Got Me” and “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind,” where Monroe’s careful vocals actually do recall Dolly Parton at her most melancholy. “Used” in particular sounds both bruised and bold. Like the song’s narrator, Monroe may not have had the easiest time in Nashville, but those setbacks have obviously made her stronger.