The country star tells stories behind the songs on her second album
Credit: Joseph Llanes

Country balladeer Ashley Monroe broke out in 2013 with her witty nine-song debut Like A Rose, but by broke out, it should be clarified that she wasn’t breaking out of nowhere. She was already known as one-third of the Miranda Lambert-led trio Pistol Annies and a member of Jack White’s Third Man Records house band. She had been tapped to lend her sweet, smokey backing vocals and harmonies to albums from folks like Mat Kearney and Will Hoge and had become one of Nashville’s most sought-after songwriters (a similarly impressive list accompanies this credit). Oh, she also collaborated with Blake Shelton on a couple big tunes, and teamed up with Vince Gill, who took her under his wing 15 years ago.

Like A Rose showed her as both affecting and poignant, but her second collection The Blade, which comes out Friday, will further solidify her as one of the genre’s defining female voices. And while Monroe made her name on heartbreak, she wades further into other emotions. “Weight Of The Load” is a tune of Lee Ann Womack “I Hope You Dance” stature in its hopefulness. “I had just been watching how heavy the weight of the load is on a lot of people,” she says of the song’s beginnings. “So I told Vince [Gill, who co-wrote the track] when we were writing, ‘You know, I have this title that’s been sticking out in my mind.’ And he instantly went to that hopeful approach. It’s one of my favorite songs that we’ve ever written because it is hopeful and it is simple—it’s so comforting.”

“Mayflower”, which she co-wrote with The Raconteurs’ frontman Brendan Benson, shows a welcome playful streak. But, there is a reason she’s called a balladeer, and its because she shines in sadness. “From Time To Time” will break your heart, especially after she tells you how she found its lyrics. “It came to me right before I got married in October 2013. I was moping around because my father having passed was going to be a noticeable absence at the wedding. So I was praying and just asking for a sign or a dream that he was here. I fell asleep on the couch and when I woke up that melody and those lyrics were already coming out. I couldn’t get to a guitar fast enough. I couldn’t even catch up with all the lyrics. That song is definitely a gift from my dad.”

And at times, like on instant classic “If The Devil Don’t Want Me”, it’s surefire proof that Monroe is on a short list of singers suited to pick up the notes Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and even Ms. June Carter Cash have laid to rest. Of that particular track, she says, “It’s just as country as it goes, I feel like my soul is bleeding when I sing that one.”

The Blade is currently streaming via NPR‘s First Listen. Peep the 13 tracks below.