Ashley Monroe debuted her brilliant new album The Blade last night during an intimate performance at East Nashville club the Basement East. Broadcast on SiriusXM, the hour-plus set featured the bulk of The Blade, as well as songs from Monroe’s 2013 debut, Like a Rose.
With artists like the LP’s co-producer Vince Gill and Little Big Town’s Phillip Sweet in attendance, Monroe previewed what is likely the heartbreak album of the year. Songs like the brooding “I Buried Your Love Alive,” the soaring “If Love Was Fair” and the sharp title track detail relationships gone bad, and Monroe sang them with grace and poise. But they took on extra weight and poignancy to those who noticed that Miranda Lambert — Monroe’s friend and collaborator in Pistol Annies — was also in attendance. Watching from a corner booth, Lambert sang along, stood and applauded, and eventually made her way onto the stage for a surprise duet on “Heart Like Mine,” a song from Lambert’s 2011 Revolution album co-written with Monroe. The performance marked Lambert’s first onstage appearance since announcing her divorce from husband Blake Shelton earlier this week.
Lambert also appears on Monroe’s album, singing harmonies on “The Blade” and as a co-writer of the tongue-in-cheek “Good at Leavin’,” which Monroe sang last night.
Still, this was Monroe’s evening and the singer-songwriter showed why she is one of country music’s most important players. Spontaneously remarking at one point, “I love country music so much,” the Tennessee native made a case for being this generation’s Loretta Lynn — marrying insightful, often soul-baring lyrics with honest country twang. (The Lynn comparison was certainly true in the fashion department, as Monroe sported a dazzling lacey dress that prohibited her from “squatting,” as she quipped, to pick up her cocktail.)
Along with Lambert, Monroe welcomed Gill to the stage to sing harmony on “The Weight of the Load,” a song they wrote together about weathering life’s storms, and the duo Striking Matches, who penned two of the songs on The Blade. Songwriter Jessi Alexander also made an appearance, supplying one of the show’s most musically satisfying moments: a duet on “If Love Was Fair,” one of four songs she co-wrote for the project. Even with the rollicking “Losing Streak” (co-written with Chris Stapleton) and “Good at Leavin'” in the set list, the mid-tempo performance was full of energy and entirely mesmerizing, as Monroe and Alexander drew out the challenging chorus in perfect unison.
Monroe’s new album will be released tomorrow, July 24th, and the singer will promote The Blade with a summer tour. She’ll perform this weekend at Country Jam U.S.A. in Wisconsin.