Women in country music are having quite the moment.
Whether it's established performers like Grammy winners Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood or upstarts like Holly Williams and Kacey Musgraves, the fairer sex is dominating (and more importantly, expanding) the genre in a way that hasn't been seen since the glory days of Loretta Lynn and Kitty Wells.
Singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe is another relatively unknown talent who is set to join the ranks of country women worth hearing.
Monroe, one-third of Lambert's acclaimed side project, the Pistol Annies, is no slouch on her own, having penned hits for superstars like Underwood, Lambert and Jason Aldean.
After Monroe's 2009 solo debut, Satisfied, was a non-starter that never received a broad commercial release, she regrouped.
On Like a Rose, her sophomore LP, produced by a pair of Nashville heavy-hitters (Vince Gill and Justin Niebank), she blossoms as a songwriter capable of sly humor, tough honesty and irresistible melody.
Despite Rose's brevity -- nine tracks in 31 minutes -- the 26-year-old Monroe, who co-wrote each song, conveys a wide range of moods, moving from the darkly funny Two Weeks Late and the tongue-in-cheek Monroe Suede to the raucous Weed Instead of Roses and the evocative Used.
Gill and Niebank manage to evoke Music City's storied sonic history -- lots of pedal steel, fiddle and acoustic instrumentation with minimal gloss -- even as these nine songs feel thoroughly modern and ready for heavy rotation.
Like a Rose ends far too quickly, but the final tune, You Ain't Dolly (And You Ain't Porter), which features an amusing cameo from Lambert's husband, Blake Shelton, neatly sums up the whole enterprise's fine grasp of past and present.
Hopefully, this fantastic collection will allow Monroe to have her own moment and soon take her place alongside the other single-monikered queens of country.