Country songs frequently shine the spotlight on heartbreak, but Ashley Monroe is tearing up for a different reason on her new album Rosegold.
“I’ll put these songs on in the car and start to cry because it reminds me to see the good in the world, to choose love over fear,” Monroe says in the album’s press materials. “Since the birth of my son, I just feel this overwhelming love washing over me from all directions.”
After welcoming her son just over three years ago, Monroe has not only been busy exploring the palette of new emotions that accompany parenthood, but she’s also been revamping her sound and style to match her fresh outlook on life and love. You may know Monroe as one-third of the firecracker country supergroup Pistol Annies alongside Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley, as a hit songwriter for big Nashville names like Carrie Underwood and Jason Aldean, or as a studio singer at Jack White’s Third Man Records. But Monroe’s best, most genuine output may just be her solo work. Written and recorded over the past two years, Rosegold is the zesty, optimistic follow-up to 2018’s more subtle Sparrow and her fifth solo LP overall. Working alongside a team of all-star country collaborators like Nathan Chapman and Jake Mitchell, the Tennessee native shows a dreamier, more daring side of herself on Rosegold, implementing bold new production elements along the way.
The standout tune from Sparrow was the lusty “Hands on You,” a blush-worthy jam about a “half drunk,” “motel room” hookup. Its counterpart on Rosegold is album opener “Siren,” in which Monroe once again assumes the role of sex-positive seducer, unapologetically singing, “I’m what you want / I’m what you know you need.” The story continues later in the record on “Groove,” where she sings “All I know is you’re movin’ mountains in me” over breathy beats and pronounced strings.
“If “Siren” and “Groove” are calls to give in to physical wants, “Silk”—one of the loveliest songs on the whole album—is about slipping into the emotional side of a relationship. It has the passion of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still The One’’ and the poetic wordplay of a Taylor Swift track: “You are the silk and honey / Cool as as a mornin’ river runnin’ / waves rollin’ / crystal golden.” The overarching message is “Cling to what is good,” a theme that’s woven throughout Rosegold.
It’s easy to sink into these 10 songs, especially when Monroe is leading the charge with encouraging lines like “Yeah it might get bad before it gets better / Sometimes it doesn’t come together / ‘Til it breaks / Let it melt away” on “‘Til It Breaks,” in time with her own recorded backing vocals. Sometimes she’s your cool older sister swapping stories of wild love affairs, secret rendezvous and complicated attraction (e.g., on “Gold,” where she quips, “I like the way the crazy feels / I like the twisted games”), but other times she’s resting in a more serious place, like on the relaxed “Flying,” when she compares the ease of a relationship to the feeling of being perched on a cloud. In fact, she’s airborne for most of Rosegold, gazing down at the world through rose tinted glasses with the assurance that light will overpower darkness.
Monroe admits in the Rosegold press materials that she, like so many of her fellow country crooners, has succeeded as a sad-song specialist in the past. After losing her father to cancer at age 13, she’s no stranger to loss: “I’ve always been good at writing sad songs because I’ve experienced a lot of sadness in my life,” she says. And while there’s always room for another tearjerker, Monroe sounds pretty comfortable singing these sunsoaked tunes for the time being. There’s no way to bypass life’s grief and heartache, but Monroe seems to have at least discovered a scenic stretch of highway, driving her straight towards peace. As she remarks on Rosegold’s final track, “The New Me,” “Take a peek inside my soul / All the rust has turned to gold.”
Ellen Johnson is a former Paste music editor and forever pop culture enthusiast. Presently, she’s a copy editor, freelance writer and aspiring marathoner. You can find her tweeting about all the things on Twitter @ellen_a_johnson and re-watching Little Women on Letterboxd.