Ashley Monroe fully commits to a new mood on Rosegold, but the lightweight affair is stripped of much depth or character.
Ever since Like a Rose, the 2013 album that was for all intents and purposes her debut, Ashley Monroe has been all but unparalleled in balancing country music’s past and its present. A traditionalist but not a purist, she writes songs that embody classic country craft, but infuses them with a modern sensibility, pop tunefulness, and sly humor. Rosegold represents a significant departure: the first album she’s made that seems to belong completely to the modern world. In press materials for the album, Monroe cites a curious range of influences that includes Kanye West and Childish Gambino, reference points that make sense when you hear the album’s shimmering synths, gauzy vocal effects, and thumping drum loops. If you wanted a more country-centric touchstone, you might think of the wind-tunnel effects on Emmylou Harris’ Wrecking Ball, or, more precisely, the gentle psychedelia of Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour; yet even those records conjure some grit that you just won’t hear on the thoroughly sleek and polished Rosegold.
Whatever else you might think about the album, it’s a bold stylistic experiment, and Monroe should be credited for committing to this new direction so completely. What’s frustrating is that, in making something so disruptive, Monroe has to really lean away from her core strengths. Her typically-sharp songwriting is sanded down in favor of generically good vibes, songs that vaguely convey what it’s like to be in love but seem to studiously avoid saying anything distinctive about her beloved. (Representative lyric: “When you put your hands on me, it’s like the Midas touch.”) Perhaps this flat writing was necessary to sustain the smooth, frictionless quality of the music, but it results in an album that emphasizes mood at the expense of depth or character; you’ll remember it for its warm, sensual ambiance, but individual songs feel fairly disposable. That’s a little bit of a disappointment coming from the writer who brought such emotional acuity to modern classics like The Blade or Pistol Annies’ Hell on Heels, though it’s not to say that Rosegold is absent charm. She still writes lovely melodies, and her soft East Tennessee twang meshes with these glossy soundscapes far more gracefully than you might have imagined. That’s enough to make the album work perfectly well as mood music, even if it all seems to evaporate the moment you stop playing it.
Published as part of Album Roundup — May 2021 | Part 3.