Album Review – Ashley Monroe’s “Rosegold”
I wish Ashley Monroe all the best. She was an important part of the counter-insurgency against Bro-Country for over a decade, and of course her work with the Pistol Annies is superb. But I’ve got no use for this new record. My guess is neither do you if you’re a country music fan, though I’m sure it will scare up a few defenders and listeners. And it’s not just because it’s pop—which it most certainly is and in a purely exclusive way. It’s just that it’s rather pedestrian and anodyne even for the pop realm.
Records like this can be such a pill to discuss because they stoke the fires of the culture war. You say it’s not for you, and you get a face full of, “OH, SO YOU DON’T SUPPORT WOMEN IN MUSIC?!?” Well no, it’s not like that. It’s just… “OH, SO YOU HATE IT SOLELY BECAUSE IT’S NOT COUNTRY?!?” No, that’s not exactly right either. “PURIST!!!” Okay well, nevermind. No matter what you say, you’ll be couched as a closed-minded redneck American dumbass.
But you’re not the problem here. God forbid as a country fan you want to listen to country music. It’s hard to support women in country when so many continue to go pop, at least in the mainstream. Yeah I know, what do you expect them to do when radio won’t play them? But that’s not exactly what’s going on here. Besides, there’s women in country that have received much less support than Ashley Monroe that continue to stick it out. This is the album Monroe wanted to make. It’s just not very good, or maybe Ashley Monroe just isn’t very good at pop. After all, she’s a country artist.
The release of Ashley Monroe’s Rosegold was prefaced by many explanations and qualifiers, which is never a good sign. It’s not that the kernels of a good song can’t be mined from some of this material, especially the final songs “Til It Breaks,” “I Mean It,” and “The New Me,” which come after seven songs with single word titles, symbolizing the economy of words and story these early tracks employ since they’re more focused on aiding the synth-pop and rhythmic experience—a far cry from the songwriting-first approach Ashley Monroe was known for with previous titles.
As opposed to story, steel guitar, and heartbreak, you get attempts at creating sonic landscapes for ethereal and atmospheric moods, embellished by multi-layered and billowy presentations of Ashley’s voice, along with aggressive drum loops, and electronic sound beds set around lyrics that strain for catchiness, and melodies that struggle to set their hooks. Ashley says Kanye West was the primary influence for the album, but I’m not really hearing that either.
It’s not that pop is an entirely terrible enterprise, even when mixed with country. As much as traditionalists love to raise gripes whenever country gets too pop, some of that early Shania Twain stuff is better than they want to admit, even if only as a guilty pleasure. Carrie Underwood continues to help set the pace in the country mainstream, despite her pop sound. Morgan Wade just released an album that was more pop than some expected, but it’s still is receiving high praise because at least the songwriting holds up.
There also seems to be this strange idea that pastures are greener in pop for country artists. Perhaps if you’re real good at it, or been pop the whole time that’s the case (see: Taylor Swift). But for many artists native to country, you just end up just becoming a smaller fish in a bigger sea. Ask The Band Perry. Remember that pop album Little Big Town released produced by Pharrell? Yeah, I don’t either. And as pop, it was probably pretty good.
This album has also once again brought up the false notion that you can’t be creative in country—that you must broaden your sonic palette and expand your horizons beyond the restrictive nature of the genre if you truly want to express yourself. Along with this being an insult to all the country artists out there, it’s also just incorrect. Country isn’t as limiting as the media outside of the genre loves to portray, and pop is often just as derivative, formulaic, and unimaginative as much as mainstream country, if not more.
Monroe has been saying that she’s very guarded of her happiness these days, and doesn’t want to make sad songs. If that’s the case, we shouldn’t want her to make sad songs either, though country is not required to be sad. Ashley Monroe can make whatever songs and music she wants to, and she’s earned the respect and latitude to do that. But that doesn’t mean we have to like it.
I want to like Ashley Monroe’s new album, and new direction. I just don’t. The Pistol Annies are making noise like they may have something new up their sleeve, so I’ll remain excited for that. But if it’s take it or leave it for Rosegold, I’ll leave it. I don’t even really know how to judge this record as opposed to “dislike” simply due to it being such a dedicated creature of the pop realm, which somewhat disqualifies this set of ears as being expert, while there’s not a lot of texture to this album to discuss. Everything just sort of blends together. I know good pop when I hear it though, and I don’t hear much of it here.
Again, I wish all the best to Ashley Monroe. Because I like Ashley Monroe’s country music, and we need women like her. But instead, she’s just the latest to go pop, or to make a pop record. Another one bites the dust I guess.
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May 5, 2021 @ 7:17 am
Thank you for this review. I’m a country/bluegrass music fan first-and-foremost, but I enjoy great music wherever it may come from. Of course “good music” is an entirely subjective concept, but I really enjoy Rosegold. True, it’s not country in the slightest, but I’m a huge fan of Ashley’s, and I’ve enjoyed all of her albums quite immensely. It’s also interesting to hear the direction she’s gone stylistically throughout her career. I think Rosegold sounds like a natural progression from her last album, Sparrow. I quite enjoy it.
May 7, 2021 @ 6:55 pm
Exactly . Good for you Ashley , Awesome change is good. Ashley would never abandoned were it all began , give me a break . Great 👍 don’t let anyone. dictate you. Freedom to move and grow is an awesome way to flow . Thank – you Ashley thinking for yourself. Yeah !! FREEDOM AN AMERICAN 🇺🇸 PATRIOT!! Andrea
May 5, 2021 @ 7:41 am
I’m pretty disappointed in this record. I wanted to like it after “drive” and “till it breaks” were prereleased on iTunes but when I heard “groove”, that was it for me. Looking back at her career (for me) it seems after The Blade she took a break cause Sparrow was sleepy and forgettable and I still don’t think she has found her footing.
It took 10 weeks from when the album was announced to when it was released and still she didn’t promote it during that period. Casual listeners are probably surprised she released a record.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:39 am
The promotion of this album was very strange. It’s almost like they felt they were sitting on a dud. Like you said, the promotion was pretty much non-existent until right before its release, and then the focus seemed to be on explaining the record’s direction in a way where they seem to answer anticipated critics as opposed to selling their vision.
May 5, 2021 @ 7:43 am
I like “Till it Breaks”, “Drive”, and “The New Me”, but the rest of the album doesn’t really do much for me. I’m not much of a pop listener though, so I’d be curious what a more dedicated pop fan would think of it. I will say this though, I’d rather listen to this straight up pop record than pretty much any mainstream/pop country record, and that includes the stuff made by the supposed “best” of the genre like Luke Combs and Morgan Wallen.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:41 am
This is another one of these records where the best songs come near the end, and by the time you get to them, you’ve soured on the experience. Doesn’t mean they aren’t good songs though.
May 5, 2021 @ 7:49 am
I’ll start off by saying I’ve been a big fan of Ashley’s. She was making good country music before Americana was cool. But this album smells of one of those albums artists make for themselves, some sort of release of expression that is usually reserved for a side project. To me, it doesn’t even seem to be some sort of sellout pop release just due to the fact there are really no catchy tunes or melodic value that would catch radio’s audience. I’ll be surprised if this album catches on to anyone beyond her most loyal fans.
I’m hoping this is a one off for Ashley and not a forbearance of what’s to come. She is too good to become an irreverent pop singer.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:11 am
To me this album feels like a natural progression from ‘Sparrow’, she’s obviously exploring other influences with these last two albums and I enjoy her music sensibility enough to still like this album. I do think her strengths are in Country and maybe she only really can make Country from a place of sadness and since she’s not there right now it’s a perfect time for her to explore passion projects.
As Scott says above me I don’t get this as selling out to pop since this isn’t a sound that would really work over there either, but rather just her following her muse.
I like it, don’t love it like her previous work so I’d hope for her to return to making Country again someday but if she doesn’t that’s okay too, sad, but okay. I support artists to do what makes them happy first.
May 5, 2021 @ 9:07 am
I agree I don’t think this is Ashley Monroe “selling out,” though I’m sure someone hopes she sells some records here, and who knows, catch fire in a new, broader market. Maybe it is a passion project, but I also just don’t hear a ton of passion in these recordings, though that may be Monroe’s lack of experience in this realm as opposed to lacking passion in it.
Sir Adam the Great
May 5, 2021 @ 10:59 am
I agree on the natural progression from ‘Sparrow’ sentiment. Trig, I’m usually up to date on album releases, but I didn’t hear about this until last week. You’re right, the promotion seemed kinda off.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:18 am
I have a wide taste and I enjoy all types of music and have enjoyed Monroe’s work in the past. I found this album to be boring poor pop music. I found it dull and boring. Some might enjoy it, I don’t. I tend to agree with this review on this one.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:30 am
I don’t love it but can’t hate it either. I dunno, Ashley’s voice and melodies always get me. Till it breaks is the best by far. Drive is catchy. The rest kind of run together for me. But she’s put out 4 pretty damn good country albums before you even count the Annies, and certainly had some upheaval with labels and everything, so I can’t blame her for wanting to try something different. I just hope more of the sounds I like come back in the future.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:35 am
Count me in the disappointed camp.
I’ve been a big fan of Ashley’s music in the past. I still regularly listen through Like A Rose. But this new direction isn’t for me. Sparrow was something different and I didn’t care for it, and it’s just taken further in that direction now with Rosegold. I actually thought Siren was a terrible song, so I was pretty turned off immediately. It had a few tracks mixed in that I thought were okay – but nothing that’s going to have me coming back to this album.
May 5, 2021 @ 8:45 am
This was the biggest disappointment but I blame myself. I knew it would pop just listening to the pre released singles but because it’s Ashley I wanted to give it a shot. The More albums she’s released the more pop they got. I still loved like a rose and the blade but I really can’t wait for this Friday for some Alan jackson, Travis Tritt, the Marfa tapes and the most anticipated for me ramble on with Charlie Marie.
May 5, 2021 @ 9:34 am
Alan Jackson is on the 14th
(Me and) Paul
May 5, 2021 @ 9:16 am
Give Me Weed Instead of “Rosegold”
Like you said it does become difficult to support women in country when so many of them insist on going pop, especially those as prominent as Ashley. At least we have a new Charlie Marie record this month and I’m anxiously anticipating Sunny Sweeney’s next studio album.
May 5, 2021 @ 3:08 pm
If the rest of Charlie’s album is as good as the singles released so far, her new album is gonna be great.
May 5, 2021 @ 9:47 am
So a 7.5 like all the other reviews? 😉
May 5, 2021 @ 9:52 am
I didn’t hear any of the pre release songs or banter but I gave this a quick bump through yesterday and said “this is an easy one, there’s no Country music here”. Then I threw on the Katie Jo album which has been steadily growing on me…..ahhhh that’s more like it. Plenty of upcoming gals albums to look forward to as well.
May 5, 2021 @ 9:53 am
I sometimes think that if country isn’t enough for you, you probably were never really country to start with. I don’t understand the inferiority complex some artists have. Why do you need to do a pop record? Why do you need to rap? You don’t see Snoop Dogg saying “Man, I need some pedal steel on my next one.” I think it just stems from the fact that yeah, they were never really a country artist to start with.
May 5, 2021 @ 10:11 am
There’s definitely a movement in Nashville at the moment that believes its cosmopolitan or bourgeois to eschew your country influences. The press will fawn over you, and you’ll be praised for your progressiveness (musically speaking). But the results of country bumpkins making pop and hip-hop records is incredibly spotty.
May 5, 2021 @ 10:13 am
Holy crap! I had no idea who that was when I saw the photo. I can’t believe she’s gone pop now too!!!!! She’s one of my favorite singers of all time, so I’ll give it a listen anyway. Doesn’t have to be country for me to like it. Just hasta not suck…
May 5, 2021 @ 10:16 am
Shit. I should have read the whole article before I said I’ll give it a list. I don’t hate myself enough to listen to anything that proudly claims it’s influenced by Kanye West – even if it IS Ashley Monroe. Damn I’m gonna miss her.
May 5, 2021 @ 10:45 am
Marren Morris wannabee?
May 5, 2021 @ 11:32 am
The idea that going “pop” is more creative is crap. 808s? Synthesizers, laptop created band is creative??? Spare me. Actually crafting a great country music record is a highly creative thing to do. So many different eras and styles to draw from. Guitars, dobros, fiddles, banjos, steel, harmonicas, pianos, mandolins….organic….actual musicians working in a studio really creating something meaningful…then theres the songwriting, and the vocal style and phrasing approach, the production, the engineering, the mixing and yes, the mastering. All come together to make creative art. You really wanna be ” edgy”? Then make a Country music record…
If i sound like a gatekeeper, good, thats the point.
On another matter, im assuming the Pistol Annies gave Ashley a bigger platform and more exposure, and along with that a larger fanbase. All of which theoretically equals larger venues and more tickets at the end of the day. Which means she goes from small venue to 1000+ seaters in certain cities. But shes not at the arena or amphitheater level as a solo act yet. So, is the thought here that “pop” will take her to that bigger level? If its truly just a passion project as Trig believes, i think it sends a strange message to her Country fans, which ultimately might have the opposite effect than what shes banking on.
May 5, 2021 @ 12:16 pm
The first single dropped and it sounded almost exactly like Lana Del Rey. That’s not praise from me.
Country Music Disciple
May 5, 2021 @ 12:36 pm
Miranda’s “The Marfa Tapes” comes out in 2 days and will probably be the exact opposite of Ashley’s album. Hopefully Angaleena will have something new coming out sometime soon since it’s been a while since her last release…but definitely look forward to anything from Pistol Annies.
May 5, 2021 @ 12:46 pm
Somebody’s been playin’ in the acid again. Dear Lord, I. do. not. want. to. hear. her b#$ch about radio again.Wow. Tammy is rolling over in her grave. Come on, man!
May 5, 2021 @ 1:10 pm
I think it’s really good! It’s not traditional but something about her voice gives it that country sound, just with different instruments. It reminds me Kacey Musgraves’ last album.
May 5, 2021 @ 2:04 pm
thanks for the warning trigger . the world needs one more mediocre pop record like it needs one more mediocre ” country” record .
my young son just told me about a ‘new’ album he’d discovered and he was raving about the vocals and the songwriting . it was ” Storms of Life ” by Randy Travis .
excuse me while I put a feather in my fathering cap . looks like saving country music has become a ‘family tradition’.
May 5, 2021 @ 2:59 pm
Another “I listened to Lana Del Ray and Billie Eilish and thought I could do this too” record.
We’re far enough away from Taylor Swift’s stab at it, I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s less interesting than any of the aforementioned work.
May 5, 2021 @ 3:02 pm
Her contract ended with her previous label Warners and this one was just distributed by Thirty Tigers. She has previously said she was not going to do any more radio promotion around the time of Sparrow, as she felt it was a waste of time and money. Keep in mind, marketing and promo expenses are subsequently deducted from an artist’s record sales and they don’t get much $ per album sold, so an artist can end up in deep debt if their sales are small and there’s a ton of marketing bucks spent. I believe this was her doing something different for artistic expression’s sake and we”ll see a more country leaning Monroe with Pistol Annies later this year.
May 5, 2021 @ 4:36 pm
“…so an artist can end up in deep debt if their sales are small and there’s a ton of marketing bucks spent.”
Yes. And no. A label can rack up huge debts which then have to be paid back by the artist IF the record makes any money. Most records fail to make money, however. When an artist is dropped by a record company, they walk away free and clear. It’s not like they have to claim bankruptcy.
If you’re an indie artist footing the bill, then the debt is all yours.
May 5, 2021 @ 4:01 pm
I like Ashley. and if an artist wants to try something different, I say go for it. look at lady Gaga, she is techno pop and she turns around and does a classic jazzy show tune album with Tony Bennet. who would have thought it would have sounded so good.
so if an artist wants to spread their wings, sink or swim, I support that they tried something new. is not that what an artist is supposed to do? so I like it. hopefully her next album will be country, I am a fan and look foward to see what comes next.
May 5, 2021 @ 4:05 pm
Like A Rose blew me away. This just blows. Sad…
May 5, 2021 @ 5:35 pm
“Another one bites the dust” was exactly my thought on hearing this. Too bad, The Blade was one of the better country albums of the last decade.
May 5, 2021 @ 6:37 pm
I filed this one away with the last Elizabeth Cook album.
May 5, 2021 @ 7:24 pm
Dreamy makes me think it’s leaning in a Lana Del Rey/Swift vein, which sadly is boring to me. Hell the Cocteau Twins were dreamy but they somehow were never boring. I some many of her albums are almost great. I just keep waiting for her to turn in something like Sunny Sweeny’s Trophy.
May 5, 2021 @ 7:28 pm
When this latest “artistic” endeavor fails, and it will, then will come the announcement of her divorce. And no I am not being funny. Just watch.
May 5, 2021 @ 7:40 pm
Yeah. She’s too old for this type of thing. Its more like a mid-life crisis than a change of genre.
May 6, 2021 @ 6:04 am
Mmhmm. Not country. But it is a wonderful and variety rich pop record that rises above due to her lovely range.
May 6, 2021 @ 2:32 pm
Man, what a let down, I loved her album : The Blade
May 6, 2021 @ 3:23 pm
Really quite shocked at how good I find “Siren”. Really good in fact. Pretty interesting melody formed out of the talking vocals and the production for modern pop is hardly offensive. Pleasant surprise.
May 6, 2021 @ 8:14 pm
smoked too much weed and is having a midlife crisis, trying one last time to be cool i guess maybe buy a motorcycle?
May 6, 2021 @ 11:08 pm
I was looking forward to new music from ashley as i like her music in the pistol annies and her previous solo albums especially the blade. I hope this is a 1 off and that she returns to country. The singles i heard were bland pop
May 9, 2021 @ 5:40 am
Flat out awful, if you’re reviewing as a country album. Actually, just plain awful, period. What a waste.
May 9, 2021 @ 11:14 am
Sadly, it sounds like she caught it by the blade. I preferred back when she used to catch it by the handle.
May 20, 2021 @ 1:13 pm
So far (although “Gold” seems duh and last track too mumblecore), I think this works as modern country art-pop: country re guarded heart, keeping it tuned up, whatever happens around the bend, of the “Groove,” of the “Drive” (OK I’ll stop now), also she sings with that discreet clarity, and the singing and playing complete the meaning—the careful dosage and breadcrumb brevity of it all (10 songs in 30 minutes) is classic pop-rock-country, never overselling as became so common, also it’s retro pop-rock as *today’s* country,, which is a very pop country approach (bits of Beatles—mellotron here, cello there—with Prince-associated relation of conversational phrases to the beats, which aren’t too big). And from The Blade to Sparrow to this (and in her Pistol Annies songs), always where she’s at currently.
May 20, 2021 @ 1:38 pm
Not *strictly* “retro,” though: the beats seem modern enough, and the philosophy times minimalism is self-discipline, not just hip taste, also she’s self-expressive, “where she’s at currently.” yeah.
October 25, 2021 @ 3:30 pm
You could tell the album was a dud from her hair color change. Remember how all those male singers went from country clothes to suits when Metro-Bro replaced Bro-Country? Same deal here. The covers rarely lie.
October 25, 2022 @ 12:02 pm
If someone as uncompromising as emmylou Harris can record on the radio (and do a darn fine job) there’s room for country pop. Good country pop. Not the cash grab kind. This is the latter