Ashley Monroe has no shortage of material to pull from these days — she just released her third solo album, The Blade, which made its debut on the country charts in second place. Still, the Pistol Annie loves a good cover tune, as evidenced by this version of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” that brings her signature crystalline quiver to one of Rolling Stone‘s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Mellencamp released “Pink Houses” on 1983’s Uh-Huh. It was inspired by a brief “hello” the singer had exchanged with a elderly man sitting on his front porch in Indiana, and recorded bare-bones in a farmhouse in the same state. Like Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA,” it’s a song about the fraying fabric of the American dream, used by countless political campaigns including President Obama’s (with permission) and Senator John McCain’s (greeted with a cease-and-desist). The “ain’t that America,” refrain is one as relevant now as it was then, with its mix of cynicism, disappointment and glimmers of hope.
Monroe’s never been afraid of hot-button subjects — she’s sung about getting high in “Weed Instead of Roses” and undoing a Bible belt upbringing on “Dixie” — and she can relate as a writer to lyrics that balance a sense of truth with a sense of fading glory, branded with the haze of Technicolor nostalgia.
“I find it extremely more challenging to write uptempo, positive songs. It does not come naturally to me,” she told Rolling Stone Country last month. “The melodies I hear that come to me the best are slow ones, beautiful melodies or waltzes. It’s hard for me to write a happy song, something that just says I’m happy. I don’t know how to say that.”
Monroe’s take on “Pink Houses” is off of Amazon Acoustics, a collection of 32 covers and originals recorded exclusively for streaming on Amazon’s Prime service. Rodney Crowell and Deer Tick are among the artists who contributed brand-new material to the project. Other artist featured include Train, Michelle Branch, John Hiatt and Five for Fighting.