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Jewly Hight

Ashley Monroe was barely old enough for a driver's permit when she first began making the rounds on Music Row, trying to get her country career going and envisioning the inevitable progression it would follow.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.


Empowerment anthems have had a good run since the early aughts, during which time we grew accustomed to hearing powerhouse pop singers turn downtrodden verses into launching pads for triumphant hooks. That tried-and-true way of displaying feminine strength made the moment of overcoming tribulation feel almost inevitable.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Any artist who's in it for the long haul is bound to weather changes and collect experiences over time. And when enough history builds up behind them, they may feel the irresistible tug of nostalgia and find ways to revisit the past — with songs idealizing the "old home place," albums of time-tested standards, lavishly packaged reissues or anniversary tours. Those reflections on the bygone days tend to be reverent affairs.

But for Wade Bowen, conjuring the musical melting pot of a youth and young adulthood spent in Texas has yielded the most wild-eyed work of his career.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

Note: NPR's First Listen audio comes down after the album is released. However, you can still listen with the Spotify or Apple Music playlist at the bottom of the page.

No music scene is monolithic, but few encompass the extremes of the bluegrass world. Both musically and ideologically, it runs the gamut from conservatism to progressivism, a range of sensibilities that it's rare to see commingling elsewhere in American society at this polarized moment.

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