Written by Jamie Floyd, Marc Beeson and Alan Shamblin
“The Blade” sets a new standard for breakup songs.
The title track from Ashley Monroe’s terrific new album is built around a brilliant metaphor. Singing as the jilted lover, Monroe tells her ex, “You caught it by the handle/ And I caught it by the blade.”
This instant classic of a refrain serves as a statement of clarity for Monroe’s protagonist – a gesture of wisdom and strength leveled at the man who broke her heart. Monroe sings this refrain – and the verses that precede it – with a serenity in the midst of all her pain. She then lets go for the emotional tidal wave that is the chorus:
“That’s the risk you run when you love, when you love
And you give it all you’ve got to give.
Knowing all along there’s a chance, there’s a chance
You’ll reach and they won’t
You’ll bleed and they don’t.”
“The Blade” is the only track on the album that doesn’t bear writing credit from Monroe. It’s credited to the team of Jamie Floyd, Marc Beeson and Alan Shamblin. Yet it captures the essence of Ashley Monroe and offers more evidence that she is perhaps the best ballad singer of her generation. She often exudes vulnerability, but she’s also tough and smart. She is blessed with a beautiful and pure country voice, but just as impressive is her skill at conveying the nuances of a song.
“The Blade” gains a great deal of power in its nuances. Yes, it’s filled with dramatic imagery, but it doesn’t unfold in broad strokes. The ex lover isn’t demonized. He still cares for Monroe, though he doesn’t realize that these overtures make it all the more painful for her. It’s also obvious that Monroe still cares a great deal for him – so much so that she can’t stop herself from calling him “baby” at the end of the song.
Although we don’t spend a great deal of time with these people, they emerge as complex, fully-realized individuals.
Shamblin co-wrote “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” which was a big hit for Bonnie Raitt in 1991 and remains one of her most popular songs. It was a significant factor in Raitt’s transformation from niche, rootsy singer-songwriter-guitarist to full-on pop star.
I keep thinking “The Blade” can do this for Monroe. It contains many of the same elements – vivid, honest lyrics, deeply-felt melodies and a powerful vocal performance. Of course, the early ‘90s were quite a different time for female roots singers with potential to cross over.
But let’s leave a discussion on frustrating industry trends for another time. I sense an immortality to “The Blade.” I think we’ll be singing this song the same way we’re still singing “Stand By Your Man” or “Jolene” or “Before He Cheats.” All of these songs are different. The one thing they have in common is the way they seemed to immediately colonize a place in our memory. “The Blade” stakes its claim.