Single Review: Ashley Monroe, “The Blade”

“The Blade”
Ashley Monroe

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.

Grade: A

18 Comments

  1. Thanks Tara and Ben. That means so much coming from you guys. I’ve really enjoyed reading your work over the years. It’s taught me a lot about music and writing about music. The Blade has been one of my go-to albums for the last month and I don’t see that changing any time soon.

  2. This review wonderfully highlights the beauty of this song. It’s a heartbreaking song, but it also shows an insightful maturity. Monroe’s performance is gorgeous.

  3. Nicely done, Larry. Like you, I’ve had Ashley Monroe’s latest album in my rotation a lot over the past month. Even after six or seven listens, I still find that the album resonates with me, and that I derive a great amount of enjoyment from hearing it. “The Blade” is a beautiful centerpiece for what is a wonderful album, and I think you do a nice job highlighting the song’s many strengths.

    Also, and this isn’t to take away from the other two songwriters…but I’m really happy to see how the last five years have been kind to Allen Shamblin. Between the success of “The House That Built Me”, and his induction into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame…I think he’s become a little bit more of a household name, at least for people who closely follow country music. I always loved his songwriting work with Mike Reid back in the early 1990s (including the aforementioned “I Can’t Make You Love Me”), and it’s just nice to see that a writer of his caliber is still involved with creating tremendous music.

  4. Great points regarding Allen Shamblin, PSU Guy. I actually didn’t know much about him until my research for this review. Your comments have enhanced my appreciation for his contributions to “The Blade” and his longevity as a songwriter.

  5. Great review of a great song. I agree that the handle/blade metaphor is brilliant. I wonder which of the three writers came up with it. I hadn’t played the album in 3 weeks, so I played it this morning to refresh my aging memory. For me, “The Blade” is the best track. I like “Dixie” a lot but I don’t think it would ever be a single.

    I wouldn’t call Ashley the best ballad singer of her generation. I don’t claim any expertise. I just would rather listen to Brandy Clark, especially when she sings those 3 gorgeous ballads from “12 Stories”, “Hold My Hand”, “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven” and “Just Like Him”.

  6. Excellent lyrics. On the other hand, the musical style, though very good and solidly country, does not quite match the level of heartache evident in songs like “Morning After” or “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind” from her previous album.

  7. Thanks Bob and Eric for your insights. To answer your question, Bob, as to who came up with the handle/blade metaphor, I came across this article during my research for the review:
    http://nashvillegab.com/2015/07/jamie-floyd-songwriter.html

    I’ll admit that the album’s first single, “On to Something Good,” left me underwhelmed when I first heard it, some months before the album’s release. It does sound much better within the context of the whole album. I also really like “Dixie.” To me, the album’s final third is masterful – “Dixie,” “If the Devil Don’t Want Me,” “Mayflowers” and “I’m Good at Leavin'” But The Blade has such a hold on me that I find myself often singing the songs I initially thought were the weaker ones. Monroe performed “I Buried Your Love Alive” a few nights ago on Conan. That could be the next single.

    I’m glad you mentioned Brandy Clark’s “12 Stories.” It’s one of the best albums in recent years and a stunning debut. Clark beautifully balances the humorous and the heartfelt. The songs you mentioned have the feel of great short fiction in their details and messy emotions. There’s a microcosm of Clark’s brilliance in the one-two punch of the haunting, sad “Take a Little Pill” followed by the rousing, empowering, very clever “Hungover.” The latter, to me, is the country radio anthem that never was. While I love Clark’s voice, I don’t think it has Monroe’s range, which allows her to sing just about any type of ballad – intimate, power pop or a little bit of both. Both artists are vibrant parts of the forefront of not only modern country but all of contemporary music. And they’re just getting started.

    Eric, I love those songs from Monroe’s Like a Rose. Although I try to avoid saying this, I think it’s the perfect modern country album – great traditional feel, progressive sensibility. The Blade clearly has a more adult contemporary feel. Still, her voice and phrasing keep it tethered to country music. In the hands of a number of other artists, a song like “Has Anybody Ever Told You” could sound overly sentimental. A reading of the lyrics suggests this possibility. But Monroe’s delivery and the production manage to give in to the sentimentality while grounding the song in authentic emotions.

  8. Larry, thanks for the Nashville Gab article on Jamie Floyd that mentioned where the handle/blade metaphor came from – a sermon that Allen Shamblin heard. Interesting story.

  9. Thanks for the feedback, Larry. I agree that this song represents a way of reaching out to other genres while still keeping the feet firmly planted in the grounds of real country.

    By the way, for those of you who like both Ashley and Brandy, I would like to suggest Jamie Lin Wilson’s exquisite new album “Holidays and Wedding Rings”. Here’s just one of the great songs from that album:

  10. Thanks for sharing that interview with Jamie Floyd, Larry. How interesting. I love her comment about how she generally catches things by the blade; I think the song (and Monroe’s delivery) makes that concept seem less of a hyperbole and more of an explanation of how some people simply feel things differently.

    I agree this album has more of an adult contemporary feel than the last one. I wasn’t able to connect with Like a Rose the way I have with this album, and that might be because this one is a bit more diverse and emotive, melodically. And I know I’m in the minority, but “On to Something Good” is my most-played song this year.

  11. This review says it all. It’s a gorgeous song, perfectly owned and executed by Ms. Monroe.

    This whole album has been on repeat for me since its release. I loved Like a Rose so I was a bit apprehensive after hearing On to Something Good, but now I feel silly for harboring any such doubts. While I do love her ballads, I adore her upbeat yet dark songs (Dixie, Buried, Winning Streak, etc.). She brings a depth and richness that is all too much of a rarity these days. All in all, thank goodness for Ashley Monroe.

  12. Eric, thanks for bringing Jamie Lin Wilson into the discussion. She’s a special singer and a thoughtful songwriter – definitely a best kept secret. I’ve always loved that beautiful quiver in her voice. I need to get her new album into my regular rotation.

    Tara, the more I hear “On to Something Good” the more I appreciate it. Your thoughts on the “The Blade’s” central metaphor are right on target. In less capable hands, the dramatic imagery could easily upstage the authentic emotions the song evokes.

    Cora, Monroe has the kind of voice and skill I feel I can follow down any avenue. Her achievement here seems to grow in stature by the day.

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