Album Review – The Pistol Annies’ “Interstate Gospel”

Sometimes works of fiction can reveal much more about the true feelings and motivations of its composers than nonfiction material. When it comes to the Pistol Annies made up of Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe, the music is not meant to represent themselves—meaning serving the same perspectives you may hear on their respective solo records. That’s because the Pistol Annies are not real, at least if you truly buy into the mythos of the band. The Pistol Annies are made up of Lonestar Annie (Lambert), Holler Annie (Presley), and Hippie Annie (Monroe)—a group of rambunctious, misbehaving ladies who like to take advantage of men and then gloat about it later. It’s not exactly cosplay, but it is the dramatic caricaturization of the egos of these three ladies cavorting through the fictional realm.

Or is it? This is what you’re supposed to believe. But perhaps the ladies of the Pistol Annies are utilizing their alter egos to bear pieces of their souls and intimate insights into their personal lives they may not have the courage or capacity to explore otherwise, while using the realm of fiction almost as a shield to expose their uninhibited selves with less fear of judgement or retribution.

On the Pistol Annies’ third record and their first in a long while, you will find the songs you would expect from the supertrio, full of sass and revenge, mixed with come hither stare downs, and turning the tables on their male counterparts while illicit substances fuel their conquests. Songs like “Stop Drop and Roll One,” “Sugar Daddy,” and the first single from the album “Got My Name Changed Back” are not matters to be taken too seriously, however fun they may be for the listener. It’s less art, and more entertainment via escapism, which is fine in its moment and context.

But beneath the Southern female glitz and unruly frivolity on the surface of the Pistol Annies’ persona is perhaps the trio’s most involved work, and one that is more revealing and personal than even possibly their solo efforts. From a band that has made its name running up against stuffy Southern customs and exposing small town hypocrisy, it might be the deep personal revelations from the Annies themselves that makes this record the most potent in perforating antiquated social mores.

Let’s speak frankly: the Pistol Annies form and dissolve at the behest of Miranda Lambert. In the Americana and critical realms, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe probably carry more weight than Miranda. But Lambert is the one with arenas on her tour schedule, and rooms full of trophies and RIAA plaques. It’s also her recent relationship drama that sets the backdrop for Interstate Gospel, and creates a seductive and compelling underpinning to many of the songs.

Not to veer too deep into the realm of gossip, but when you listen to “When I Was His Wife,” or “Masterpiece,” or the self-reflective and personal loathing embedded in “Milkman,” or even “Got My Name Changed Back,” you can’t help but drop the true life details of Miranda Lambert’s love life into the blanks spots and ambiguous narratives. Miranda Lambert could never be this revealing on one of her own records; she has to place the message more between the lines. But with her two Annies by her side giving her strength and courage, and the latitude that a fictional persona affords, the honesty of perspective can flow more freely, whether we’re supposed to regard the stories and perspectives as fictional or not.

The same holds for Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. “Best Years of My Life” and “Leavers Lullaby” challenge for some of the best material Ashley Monroe has released in her career, and these songs are produced better than some of the stuff on her last record. Angaleena Presley’s “Commissary,” though sparse in its words, is deep in it’s story and impact. It’s not just the writing, but the perspective embedded in the narrative that enhances the song, like so many Pistol Annies compositions. And the sonic approach from the song is taken straight from The James Gang’s “The Bomber: Closet Queen,” which is not an entirely bad thing.

For what is primarily a record from three strong songwriters, Interstate Gospel features a lot of serious instrumentation. “Got My Name Changed Back” is a song comprised mostly of instrumental vamps between verses. It’s darn near 40 seconds into a funky country rock jam before you hear any singing on “Sugar Daddy.” And “Interstate Gospel” is mostly just an excuse for an acoustic jam. This is primarily a country record, but there’s a lot of hot guitar that’s tone rich and tasty, without getting in the way of the ladies. The music adds grease and attitude to this work where needed.

Interstate Gospel is a little weird in the sense that they still try to keep the rambunctious persona of the Pistol Annies alive on the record, but there’s so many deep, heartfelt songs included that you’re afraid they might get overlooked by the crowd that doesn’t want to listen beyond “I Got My Name Changed Back.” That makes sequencing of the tracks a little difficult. Also, the song “5 Acres of Turnips” written by Presley and Lambert is just kind of a weird song in general with it’s strange story and Phil Spector production. But this record should not be regarded as a repository for B-level material from these three A-list songwriters. On the contrary, Interstate Gospel includes arguably some of the best songs from each that have been released in recent memory.

Ultimately, Interstate Gospel feels like Miranda Lambert’s breakup record, much more than The Weight of These Wings did, with Presley and Monroe helping her along. Lambert had some things she needed to say, and the Pistol Annies was the place to say them. Even with strong contributions from Miranda herself, The Weight of These Wings was much more a showcase of Americana songwriters. Interstate Gospel involves not one co-writer outside the troika, with Miranda Lambert singing lead on the majority of songs, including the heartbreaking “Cheyenne,” which once again conjoins with what you know, and what you can’t get away from about Miranda’s personal life, making it that much more of an enthralling and touching of a work.

Miranda Lambert has morphed into a polarizing character in popular culture, with those who love her paying close attention, and those who hate her paying even closer attention. Many love to love Miranda. Many others love even more to hate Miranda. Her life is like a country song, which she points out herself in the song “Masterpiece.” And while many are quick to pass judgement, fair or not, those judgements and the underlying hypocrisy beneath them have always been the ultimate muse of the Pistol Annies. It’s what makes this partnership more than three songwriters, but a sisterhood, and in this case, one Miranda, Angaleena, and Ashley could use to tell their deepest stories through, even if it’s under the cover of fiction.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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