For love of country. For love of weed.
Ashley Monroe – Like a Rose (Warner Bros.)
Having comprised a third of the excellent country trio Pistol Annies, her nine-song sophomore release is similar in character to the group which reintroduced her; beautifully damaged, unabashedly trailer trash. She prefers weed over roses, is romantically impetuous, runs away from her family’s past while simultaneously embracing it, and is broke but street smart enough to make ends meet for herself and the baby she’s carrying in sin. Aside from the weed (and perhaps the impetuousness), I doubt any of this is autobiographical. Rather, these are vignettes constructed by a meticulous songwriter and a team of co-writers who are just as exact. While much of the music is delivered as folksy ballads, stretching what should feel like a brisk 32 minute run time, the three lively ones are spunky, witty and brashly charming. The chorus of the title track almost sums up the tone for the rest of the album. “Sitting in this dinner with a coffee in my hand. / Waiting on a bus to some promised land.” GRADE: A-
Kacey Musgraves – Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury)
Based off the promise of last year’s well-written single “Merry Go Round,” let’s start by calling her major-label debut a modest disappointment in the lyrics department, but not place the blame on her tiny shoulders alone. For all I know, the corniest and most hackneyed verses could be the brainchild of either co-writers Shane McAnally and Luke Laird – who each double as co-producers. As charmingly plain as her voice is, it doesn’t flatter lines like “If you wanna find the honey/You can’t be scared of the bees/If you want to see the forest/You’re gonna have to look past the trees,” and it only adds to the gushiness of the blandly titled “Dandelion” and “I Miss You.” But for how austere she is vocally, she wears the feisty songs rather well – as the raunchy stomp of weed-smokin’ anthem “Blowin’ Smoke” proves. Yet, for all the dope, trailer trash, small town gossip and high school weddings to be found, Musgraves proposes a toast to all of them and more on “Follow Your Arrow,” an ode to individuality that’s more pro-gay than it pretends to not be. GRADE: A-