Ashley Monroe, "Like a Rose" (Warner Bros.)
Monroe is one-third of the Pistol Annies, the formidable country trio featuring Miranda Lambert, whose debut "Hell on Heels" was one of the standout releases of 2011. "Like a Rose" is technically Monroe's second album, although her 2009 debut, "Satisfied," was released only digitally and was effectively buried by her former record label, Columbia, which must be kicking itself now.
That's because "Like a Rose," which was co- produced by Vince Gill, is the best collection of trad-country tunes by a Nashville major label in a dog's age. (For me, the last one was Lambert's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" in 2007.) Rose co-wrote the thorny title cut with Texas troubadour Guy Clark.
At just 29 minutes, "Like a Rose" is lean on its bones. But each song is a keeper, from naughty honky-tonkers such as "Weed Instead of Roses" to expertly playful twists on country tropes such as "Two Weeks Late" and "She's Driving Me Out of Your Mind." (Genius song title, that.) "Like a Rose" ends with a terrifically teasing duet with Blake Shelton, "You Ain't Dolly, and You Ain't Porter," mentioning a couple of old-school hard-country heroes whose music Monroe is proudly indebted to, while sounding utterly fresh.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Suede, "Bloodsports" (Fontana)
Add Suede to the growing list of unexpected British rock comebacks in 2013, alongside David Bowie and My Bloody Valentine.
It has been 11 years since Brett Anderson and friends released a Suede album and nearly 20 years — yes, "Dog Man Star" came out in 1994 — since the band was a major rock force. "Bloodsports" is a return to those heady days in the mid-'90s, when Suede's huge stadium-rock choruses and Anderson's New Romantic-influenced vocals took them to the top of the British charts, although, sadly, there's no reunion with original guitarist Bernard Butler.
"Snowblind" sounds like it could have come from the band's debut album, with angular, experimental rock verses welded to a singalong chorus. "It Starts and Ends With You" is straightforward Britpop, catchy rock that's perfect for hopping up and down in crowds at a football match and waving the Union Jack. "For the Strangers" also will have you waxing nostalgic for the "Cool Britannia" days, with Anderson approximating Morrissey-esque drama over chiming Edge-like guitars.
With all that energy in the front half of "Bloodsports," the album bogs down toward the end in a series of similar ballads, although the massiveness of "Sometimes I Feel I'll Float Away" does show us where early Muse may have come from and why it is so good to have Suede back.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday