News Column

Country music sings with the Monroe doctrine

October 5, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 05--Ashley Monroe is going where no female country singer has gone before: to weed.

Borrowing a page from Willie Nelson and other cowboys, she's singing about marijuana in her new single "Weed Instead of Roses." That's how she wants her man to woo her.

"It's funny as opposed to a love song. I'm just saying spice it up and maybe it'll make people laugh," said Monroe, 27, who will perform at BUZ'N radio's Girls With Guitars show Tuesday in Minneapolis with four others including Sheryl Crow and Kellie Pickler.

"I wrote that song when I was 19, maybe 20. And Vince Gill heard it and told me he wouldn't produce my record unless we did that song. We said, 'Let's make it a hard-core country song. Maybe it'll soften the lyrics a little bit.'?"

Set to a sprightly honky-tonk gallop, "Weed Instead of Roses" is indeed playful. It mentions her putting on some heavy-metal music, posing for Polaroid pictures and getting wild with whipped cream. All this is delivered with a sweet, twangy voice that falls somewhere between Emmylou Harris' and Dolly Parton's -- with a wink of the eye.

But will radio play "Weed Instead of Roses"?

"We're one of the few stations playing it," said BUZ'N operations manager Rob Morris. "It's a unique title. We haven't had anybody react yet -- good or bad. It's left open to interpretation."

One of the crucial interpreters is Monroe's fiance, Chicago White Sox pitcher John Danks. Will the suggestion of weed and whips-and-chains in the bedroom get him in trouble?

"I haven't even asked," she said from Nashville last week. "I showed him the video and he laughed and he goes, 'It's great.' He lets me do what I do and supports me. We know just about enough of each other's career so we can say 'Good job, baby' or whatever it is and move along."

With everyone from Kenny Chesney to Toby Keith alluding to marijuana in songs, is weed the new whiskey in country music?

"I prefer weed to whiskey; it's illegal," Monroe said. "From personal observations, it brings out a lot better in people than whiskey does. To each their own. I'm not trying to force anything on anybody. I think it'll put a couple in a very loving mood."

"Weed Instead of Roses," "She's Driving Me Out of Your Mind" and "You Ain't Dolly" (a duet with Blake Shelton) exemplify the kind of wit and humor Monroe has displayed both as a solo act and with her side project, the Pistol Annies, the trio featuring Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley.

The Annies put out their second album, the critically acclaimed "Annie Up," in May, just two months after Monroe released her second solo effort, the impressive "Like a Rose." The album, which also includes such sincere modern country pieces as "You Got Me" and "The Morning After," features songs Monroe co-wrote with Gill, Guy Clark, Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild and former Minneapolitan Sally Barris.

Why Annies canceled tour

The Annies were supposed to play at the Winstock festival in Winsted, Minn., in early June but canceled all 11 of their concerts for that month.

"There was all this pressure because we'd just released this new record but between my personal schedule and Angie's personal schedule and Miranda's personal schedule, we realized we didn't have enough time to rehearse," Monroe said. "We made the decision that we weren't ready to go on tour. We want to make sure we give our fans something great when we go out."

The Annies have earned two nominations for November's Country Music Association Awards -- for best video and best special event, both for their appearing on Shelton's "Boys Round Here."

Born in Knoxville, Tenn., Monroe moved to Nashville as a teenager and at 20 released her little-heard debut album on Columbia Records. She went on to sing backup for many artists, including Gill and Lambert and rockers Chris Isaak, Mat Kearney and the Raconteurs. She became part of rock hero Jack White's house band for his Nashville-based Third Man Records. In 2011, she made her first Pistol Annies album.

Monroe is looking forward to collaborating with the other women at Girls With Guitars -- Maggie Rose, Rachel Reinert from the trio Gloriana, Pickler and Crow. They'll do individual numbers and then do a guitar pull, in which they all sit together and trade off songs.

"I'm close to all of them," Monroe said of her Girls With Guitars partners. "We're all doing what we're supposed to be doing right now. Kellie made a real traditional country music record. I know Sheryl made a country record, as well. I'm excited to hear everybody."

Tuesday's appearance will be just a Twin Cities pit stop for Monroe. She'll be back for two shows in early December with fast-rising country star Hunter Hayes.

Three Minneapolis shows in three months -- that's what you get when you release two of the best country albums of the year.

Twitter: @JonBream -- 612-673-1719

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(c)2013 the Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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