Ashley Monroe’s new record, “The Blade,” begins on a radio-friendly note with “On to Something Good,” a piece of hooky contemporary country. Moments later, with “Bombshell,” things swing in a different direction. Built on the lyrical germ of facing the decision to break up a relationship, the song is modern-style hard country music, with resonating steel guitar and Monroe’s voice keening her pain over how and when to do the deed.
And so it goes throughout “The Blade.” For every shimmering ballad like “Weight of the Load,” there’s a trad-channeling piece of hurt like “If the Devil Don’t Want Me;” for every moment of powerful pop heartbreak without the steel break, like the title track, there’s one like the throwback country sound garnished with touches of Memphian-Elvis pop of “Winning Streak.”
Take into account the melancholy country-soul soundscape that Monroe constructs with “From Time to Time,” a song that illustrates perfectly how to modernize older sounds; the Cajun-spiced classic Texas waltz “I’m Good at Leavin’ ”; and the gently rolling ballad “Mayflowers,” and “The Blade” ends up leaning more country than pop.
It’s definitely more expansive sonically than Monroe’s previous work, which doesn’t mean it sounds disjointed; rather, it comes across as presenting different sides of the same artist. “The Blade” shows that she has the tools for it: a voice that for good reason routinely invokes comparisons to Dolly Parton (another hardcore/soft-shell artist), a writer’s gift for lyrics, and a capacity for bringing her words to emotive life. (Out Friday)
ESSENTIAL “From Time to Time”
Ashley Monroe plays at Blue Hills Bank Pavilion on Sept. 4.
Watch Monroe’s video for “On To Something Good”:
Stuart Munro can be reached at email@example.com.