Reporting Kurt Wolff
Many country fans will tell you that Ashley Monroe‘s Like A Rose, released back in March, is among the genre’s best albums of the year. And frankly, they’d be right. As full of fun as it is soulful, Like a Rose makes references to country music’s past yet is entirely 21st century in its moods, lyrics, and melodies.
By way of example is “Weed Instead of Roses,” a hilarious song Monroe (who is also a member of the Pistol Annies) cowrote with Sally Barris and John McElroy that is Monroe’s current single. “‘Weed Instead of Roses’ I wrote when I was 19 or 20 with two great co-writers,” Monroe told Radio.com. “I just went in writing all these raunchy lyrics, and I was laughing the whole time.”
It’s a 180-degree turn from the first single “Like a Rose,” an empowering, introspective song that Monroe wrote with legendary Texas-turned-Nashville songwriter Guy Clark. The title alone (“Weed Instead of Roses”) is catches you off guard. But once you hear the awesomely catchy melody–not to mention the goofball lyrics that involve not only weed but whiskey, whips and chains, heavy metal and whipped cream–it’s hard not to agree that Monroe’s songs are some of the most snappy, sassy and downright exciting to emerge from Music City in ages.
The album itself was coproduced by Vince Gill, who told Radio.com earlier this year that Monroe’s level of talent immediately stood out to him. “You hear that voice, and then you hear the old soul with what she writes songs from, and that’s one deadly combination. It’s so rare.”
Monroe said she hadn’t exactly planned on recording the song for Like a Rose, but Gill insisted. “When it came time to record this album, Vince heard ‘Weed Instead of Roses’ and he goes, ‘I’m not doing the album unless you record that.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Vince! What will my Papi think?’”
A music video for the song has now also been released, and like the song it’s a doozy. Decked out in colorful suits created by famed Nashville tailor Manuel (aka “the Rhinestone Rembrandt,” who has created clothing for stars from Johnny Cash to Elvis Presley), Monroe and her band run through the song on a set designed to appear like that from a decades-old television show.
If the video brings to mind the 1970s, that’s exactly the point. “I wanted to do something performance-driven that was light and fun and not literal,” director David McClister explained. “We were able to locate several vintage video cameras from the era [Ikegamis]. Using the cameras from the period gave us a look unlike anything currently on television. I wanted our finished video to feel like an artifact from 1971 – an archival piece of video that had been re-discovered from the vaults of a local TV station.”
And considering the song is called “Weed Instead of Roses,” it’s little surprise to see cannabis leaves adorning Monroe’s suit jacket. It may be the first time we’ve seen such imagery on a country artist’s suit like that since the colorful, pot-and-pills-adorned outfit that Gram Parsons wore on the cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Gilded Palace of Sin.
While Parsons’ iconic outfit is attributed to another famed tailor to the stars, Nudie Cohn, it was actually Manuel–then a protege of Nudie’s–who designed and hand-stitched the suit (it’s now in the collection of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum). “I was just making the outfit according to all the ideas that we put together: the nude girls, the pills and the marijuana plants, and the California poppies,” Manuel has said about the experience.
So, yes, the Parsons references don’t just come out of the blue. “The first time I listened to ‘Weed Instead of Roses,’ I immediately thought of Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers,” McClister added. And as for Monroe herself, she’s an admitted fan of Parsons’ music, and she’s been known to cover his songs on occasion.
Regarding “Weed Instead of Roses,” Monroe told Radio.com that she wanted to showcase her funny side on her album, and the song turned out to be a perfect way to do that.
“I think that it’s cool to show that you have a sense of humor,” Monroe explained. “I tend to write when I’m sad and I definitely wanted to show that I have a sense of humor and I can also write songs that are funny and fast. Things that aren’t so dark and depressing. It fit the record well.”
For his part, Gill likens Monroe to Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss.
“To me, she has the opportunity to have the same kind of impact” those women have had, he said–artists who “really define a stretch of time with the songs that they come up with and find. I always felt like somebody would come along and do again what some of these great women have done.”
But when he listens to Monroe’s music, it’s not just female artists who come to mind for Gill. “Some of the things on Ashley’s record harken back to a Ray Price record, or some of the great stuff that’s come before.”