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If country music is all about traditions, Pistol Annies follow several—namely, the whip-smart songwriting of artists such as Dolly Parton and Reba McEntire, who each brought a female point of view to a genre full of male-driven songs about hard living and hard drinking. Yet the Pistol Annies are also carving their own path.
The trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe. and Angaleena Presley constitutes a throwback that manages to feel thoroughly modern. Their brand of country wouldn’t be out of place on an independent label such as Bloodshot Record given their songs have an outlaw bent and owe more of a debt to, say, Rosanne Cash, than the glossy pop of mainstream Nashville. Yet one listen to the Pistol Annies’ third album, and it becomes clear this music can only be made in 2018. Just take the killer opening line from “Best Years of My Life:” “I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet.”
The record’s lead single, “Got My Name Changed Back,” feels ripe for a road trip. In the fiery divorce song, Lambert joyfully sings about her newfound freedom. But first she’s got to deal with lawyers and the DMV. She only hints at the party to come during the song’s final moments when she divulges she made out OK in the divorce settlement. Monroe and Presley ace their supporting roles with spunky “yeah yeahs” scattered throughout.
Like many of the songs on Interstate Gospel, the tune itches for a cross-country buddy film. The title track, after all, sees the trio looking for faith in religious billboards along the freeway. While Thelma & Louise may be an obvious choice, we’ll go with Boys on the Side, a film about a trio of women escaping personal hells to revel in their own friendships and stir up trouble. Boys on the Side also possesses a self-aware sense of humor Thelma & Louise lacks. Besides, the Pistol Annies are too smart—and rejoice too much in destruction—to go driving off a cliff.
The Pistol Annies are more than a supergroup comprised of three respected and accomplished solo artists and songwriters. It is an important band, and one that shouldn’t be written off as a side project.
While slightly rawer and rougher around the edges than the solo work of members Miranda Lambert and Ashely Monroe, the Pistol Annies write with honesty and humor about functioning albeit dysfunctional families and romances. Even as they up the sarcasm—witness the family drama everyone avoids at Christmas while downing spiked eggnog on “Hush Hush”—Interstate Gospel delights in nuance.
“Milkman” has fun with an old cliché, turning the idea of an affair with a milkman into a commentary on how a conservative mother reckons with her daughter’s reckless life. It does so with spare, heartbreaking acoustics. “If mama would’ve loved the milkman, maybe she wouldn’t judge me,” Lambert sings. “Cheyenne” initially seems to poke fun at a woman who “lives for the nightlife and trashy tattoos,” only to see the trio harmonizing about someone else’s apparent ability to be cold-hearted. “Leavers Lullaby,” led by a cymbal-heavy rhythmic waltz teems, finds Monroe pleading for a lover to just “take the dog and the house” and leave. “Best Years of My Life,” meanwhile, paints domesticated life as a horror show (“I’ve got the hankering for intellectual emptiness”) while a crack batch of backing instrumentalists comes to the rescue mid-song with an urgent electric guitar and comforting fiddle.
Of course, rowdy silliness abounds, too. Just cue up the aforementioned “Got My Name Changed Back” and self-explanatory “Stop, Drop and Roll One” and “Sugar Daddy.” But in a mainstream country landscape still populated with dudes is baseball caps and well-meaning lunkheads such as Chris Janson (see his tone-deaf anti-rape song “Drunk Girl”), the Pistol Annies’ ability to so effortlessly capture a woman’s perspective shouldn’t be taken for granted. Peers such as Kacey Musgraves and Amanda Shires may be more musically adventurous, but there’s no shame in mastering country laments built for whiskey—or Percocet.
Our vinyl review copy proves a mixed bag. While mainstream country often gets estimated to make up little of the overall vinyl market, the packaging of Interstate Gospel holds promise. A sturdy gatefold sleeve features pictures of the Pistol Annies intermixed with lyrics. Notably, the band dedicates the record to the late Randy Scruggs (“our favorite guitar picker”).
Sonically, however, the LPs feel mastered more for streaming services than a high-end stereo. The subtleties of the ballads often get lost among a loud and bold mix seemingly made for a rock record. As for the pressing itself? While Lambert’s voice shows off a lively twang, and Monroe and Presley display requisite grace, the quieter songs are often interrupted by an abundance of background noise and ticks. If the content matched the group’s live concerts—more boisterous and unruly—such imperfections may have been less notable. Alas, the music chases after a crispness the vinyl doesn’t possess.
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