Digging Deep: Ashley Monroe

Ashley MonroeRecently, while listening to Kathy Mattea’s

Coal, I realized that, perhaps, the most important aspect to creating a themed play list was the ability to find some obscure songs to include with all those well-known classics. While Merle Travis’s “Dark as a Dungeon” as performed at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash and Darrell Scott’s “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” as performed by Patty Loveless are two of my personal favorite coal miner songs—they are already in heavy rotation on several of my play lists and are drawn from albums I listen to regularly.

Ashley Monroe’s “Canary,” which can be unearthed on This is My America Volume 2, is the kind of hidden gem that often can be missed even by those paying close attention to the movements of country music. Similar in tone to classic coal mining songs but delivered with modern sensibilities “Canary” most closely resembles what I wish “radio friendly” country sounded like—it isn’t traditional but it feels like country music. Plus, it fits well between my more traditional favorites, providing some variety for myself and perhaps a surprise to anyone listening along.

Recommendation: Ashley Monroe’s “Canary,” from This is My America Volume 2.

What hidden gems covering traditional country music subject matter (murder, drinking, ect.) would you recommend? Alternatively, what coal mining songs would you recommend?


  1. Ferlin Husky. “Drunken Driver.” Has to be heard to be believed.


  2. From what I can hear from the clip, I think your take on Canary is spot on, Bill…

    I’d also recommend “Blue Diamond Mines” from Kathy’s “Coal”. Great song, and I hear there’s some powerful background vocals on that one..;)

  3. Ricky Skaggs recorded an equally heartbreaking version of ‘The Drunken Driver’. My Dad always liked that song and I remember just being in tears the first time I heard it all the way through.

  4. “Cheap Whiskey” by Martina McBride….which I believe is off one of her very first albums. I also believe that Kathy Mattea covered it, but I like Martina’s version better, but that is just me. Something about that some resounds with me. Every time I hear the song, I can feel the heart break behind the song.

  5. Patty Loveless does the other version of “Cheap Whiskey” on Mountain Soul. Loveless’ husband, Emory Gordy, wrote it.

  6. Funny, but with respect to “coal” songs, how about “Sixteen Tons”, the Merle Travis classic done by (among others) Tennessee Ernie Ford?

    And as for traditional country music subject matter, though done with a modern (or at least mid-70s) twist, how about Little Feat’s truck-driving anthem “Willing” as done by a woman–namely Linda Ronstadt?

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