By Maura Johnston
July 23, 2015

Earlier this summer, observers of country music got caught up in a debate about female artists’ place on radio–should the “tomatoes” (one radio consultant’s unfortunate metaphor for women) get airtime equal to playlists’ salad greens (the trucks-and-beers offerings from guys like Luke Bryan)? The Blade, the second album by singer-songwriter Ashley Monroe, proves that for some salads, the tomatoes are all you need. Monroe can write songs that are roadhouse-ready as easily as she can write a brokenhearted ballad, and her winsome voice recalls Dolly Parton in both timbre and plainspokenness. Restless and romantic, she slyly inverts Nashville sounds through the ages–the agitated balladry of “Dixie,” the melted guitars of “If Love Was Fair”–to reveal an outlaw streak. Her confident, assured turn on The Blade not only provides a crucial reminder that country’s women are often the ones pushing the genre forward but offers a prime soundtrack for open-road adventures and whiskey-filled nights.

–MAURA JOHNSTON

Contact us at editors@time.com.

This appears in the August 03, 2015 issue of TIME.

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