Ashley Monroe

"She has this old soul in the way she writes songs, and she has such an undeniable voice – not unlike Dolly, Alison, or Emmylou," says Vince Gill

Ashley Monroe -- a recent 615 Spotlight artist -- has country music in her bloodlines, literally, as she told Billboard in her own words.

"My me-maw on my dad's side was a Carter," she said, "and she married my Pa Paw, Scott Monroe, who was first cousins with Carl Smith. So, when I moved to town, I would go to Carl's house, and we'd go out to eat at Cracker Barrel and he'd tell me stories. He told me to keep the legacy going."

With today's release of "Like A Rose" on Warner Music Nashville, that's exactly what Monroe is attempting to do. Critics and industry insiders are hailing the album from the Pistol Annies member as one of the best traditional country albums in quite some time.

"Ashley has been around for a while," said Vince Gill, who co-produced the disc. "I just adore her. I think she's one of the most talented young people to come to this town in many years. She has this old soul in the way she writes songs, and she has such an undeniable voice – not unlike Dolly, Alison, or Emmylou."

The album, co-produced with Justin Niebank is a mixture of moods, including the dark and haunting "You Got Me," which she said she felt the words of first hand. "I was going through some personal stuff where I felt that something had me, and that melody came to me in my sleep. Karen Fairchild, from Little Big Town, was coming over the next day to write, and I had recorded the melody into my phone as soon as I woke up. We wrote it pretty quick. It could be about any kind of addiction, drugs, alcohol, a bad relationship, grief, anything that has you. I wanted to capture that feeling of hiding something that is not good for you."

The song features a stunning string section, as well as irresistible harmonies from Fairchild and Little Big Town. "I felt the strings brought out the pain and the haunting feeling of the melody," Monroe said. "When Little Big Town comes in, it's like a choir of angels. It breaks your heart – in a good way."

Then, there's the other side of the spectrum. "Weed Instead Of Roses" isn't, well, your typical love song. However, she said that was a key track in the making of the disc – and one that Gill exerted a little bit of pressure for her to do.

"The song is about trying new things in a relationship, and rekindling romance. We wrote it laughing, but I really liked it. It ended up on a compilation CD for Vince, and he said ‘If you don't cut this one, I'm not producing your record.' I said ‘Vince, of all the songs, that's the deal breaker? So, we did it."

Fans of Connie Smith or Tammy Wynette will be drawn to the retro sound of "The Morning After." She said the song has been around for a while. "I started that one when I was seventeen. I wrote it with Lori McKenna and Liz Rose. Obviously, the first thing you think about a "Morning After" is when you've drank too much, and most of us have been through. But, it could also be about heartbreak in general. Anytime you go through one, and you wake up the morning after, it hurts. I think you just keep going through the morning after, as it never stops coming."

Her producer feels that Monroe has the potential to be a standard-bearer for the format. "I just believe that Ashley is going to do what Emmylou did in the mid 70s, in a sense of turning young people on to country music," says Gill. "I think a lot of people will assume that because it's a real traditional sounding record, in spots, that people from the past will embrace this record. I think that's a given, but I think the young people that hear this will go ‘That's real. That's authentic. That's undeniable' – all those things that drew me to Emmylou. I think that Ashley has the possibility to accomplish."