march 2009

Places In The Heart

By David McGee

Megan Munroe: Putting the load right on herself in matters of the heart (Photo by Kevin Tice)

Megan Munroe
Diamond Music Group

Arriving radio ready, appealing to the eye, the ear and the heart, intensely immersed in her largely self-penned songs, Megan Munroe is set to join the lineage of tough country gal singers descended most recently from Gretchen Wilson and Miranda Lambert, the latter being the whom she most resembles in her sassy attitude and chip-on-the-shoulder self-assurance. She sets herself apart on her sophomore album by the simple act of putting the load right on herself when it comes to pinpointing the fault lines in her romantic relationships. This is not to suggest that the fetching Ms. Munroe goes gently into the good night of broken hearts and lost souls. Produced (on all but one cut) by Doug DeForest and backed by musicians whose resumes show tenures with the likes of George Strait (drummer Mike Kennedy) and Vince Gill (multi-string instrumentalist Tim Crouch), Munroe delivers her pointed critiques of regret and self-recrimination against a hard country backdrop that DeForest (who has logged time as a musician with David Allan Coe, among others) supplements with strings and a few electric guitar sorties cribbed from the realm of arena rock. All of this is needed because Munroe is, shall we say, proactive when it comes to matters of the heart, not the most likely candidate to be covering "Stand By Your Man" any time soon. As she watches her paramour depart in "Nothing Is Easy" (more perfect a summation of Munroe's narratives could not be found—this should be the album title), she spits a parting shot, "I broke the blinds as I waved goodbye"—after she has already "slammed my fingers in the bedside drawer." Catching a "sorry-ass" hubbie in flagrante delicto in "Leavin' Memphis" (How smart is this guy? He hasn't yet washed the "Just Married" off his pickup truck.), she makes a dramatic entrance into his love shack: "I kicked in that ol' doorway and headed down the hall." And in a heated argument with her lover, she double-dog dares him, "Go ahead and slam the bedroom door!"

But where Megan Munroe takes a hard left away from Ms. Wilson and Ms. Lambert is in celebrating less her independence and lamenting more her own woeful judgment. In the aforementioned "Leavin' Memphis," with guitars moaning as banjo and fiddle aggressively punctuate the seething soundscape, she concludes with a cautionary note to the distaff side: "I love a cheatin', lyin' drunk/but you don't have to." One of the album's catchiest songs, "Angel On Fire," a jubilant fiddle-fired country shuffle, is hardly the happy-go-lucky ditty its music and mood suggest, but rather describes the singer in desperate straits, trying to salvage her heart as a romance goes down the tubes, observing ruefully, "happy ever after don't seem that way to me/'cause happy ever after ain't easy to believe," as the song takes a surprising, downcast turn. Similarly, the gentle, jazzy swing of "Belle Meade" is in stark contrast to the singer's forceful testifying to feeling eternally scarred by her romantic misadventures: "I'm just trying to stay afloat, but your memory's drowning me/And I don't think I ever will be clean/From the muddy waters in Belle Meade" (which makes one wonder how this song will go over with the well-heeled, old money residents of Nashville's elegant Belle Meade community).

On those occasions when she lets her guard down (as in "Belle Meade"), Munroe enriches the character she's created on disc (her experience as an actress has served her well here) by admitting to feeling vulnerable. Sometimes it surfaces as self-doubt: strings, a crying fiddle and a rich, roiling arrangement work to perfection in "Pennies In the Ocean," enhancing an eloquent expression of artistic frustration—indeed, a rhetorical musing in song as to whether she's even on the right career path—as Munroe rails at everything from "one more broken string, another blank stare" to the futility of trying to "fill this world with emotion" in the face of so many competing voices. At the close, in "Lonely Tonight"—properly placed in the sequence to put the capper on the narrative Munroe's constructed in her songs, and arranged with the most abject of fiddle and mandolin ruminations, with a funereal B3 humming softly in support—Munroe sings softly, reflectively, from a deeply battered soul, of lessons learned the hard way, and of the ensuing stark reality shaped by her errant decisions. "I'm face to face with all my fears," she offers in a plaintive surrender to the devastating truth, "all these tears and wasted years/I realize that I'm lonely tonight." A powerful performance-thoughtful, nuanced and completely open-it ends as muted as it began. Neither bravura "tomorrow's another day" sentiments nor triumphant crescendos obtain, but simply the singer, all defenses shed, confronting herself, to the deafening sound of her own heart beating.

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Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024