The Pistol Annies and “Annie Up”
So here come the Pistol Annies again, with their cleavage heaving and lined with lace, all attitude in their tank boots and tube tops. So what’s the take? Are they traditional country saviors, or a silly act?
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When you boil it down, the Pistol Annies are gender music. Sure, we all tend to be able to relate more to a singer and and a perspective that mirrors our own, but the Pistol Annies project seems to take it a step further. Either you’re a dude saying, “Yeah they’re hot and all, but I just don’t get it. My wife made me buy her the CD for her birthday.” Or you’re a chick, and you’re living vicariously through the Annies’ bawdy, tipsy adventures. Standard country songs that on the outside may seem to only appeal to women like “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad” or “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)” can still be easily transposed to the male perspective. Not so much for a song like Annie Up‘s “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty.” Certainly there is exceptions with certain fans and certain songs, but for the most part, you can expect The Pistol Annies’ appeal to break across gender lines.
The Pistol Annies also inhabit a weird head space when it comes to one’s musical perspective. To mainstream country fans who tend to lean towards wanting more traditional sounds and an attention to songwriting in their music, they are a breath of fresh air. Lo and behold there’s actually some steel guitar on this album, and lyrical offerings that don’t make you feel stupid for listening. But an independent or traditional country fan’s ear is going to pick up on a polished sound, lyrical performances that are too perfect, slick and predictable arrangements, and still a somewhat formulaic approach to songwriting despite whatever depth.
But however slick this album may be, I still don’t hear a smash radio single from Annie Up, and Annie member Ashley Monroe has said herself this is not the aim of the album. However this may say just as much about the level of substance found on Annie Up as it does the dwindling importance of commercial radio. The album’s lead single “Hush Hush” has an engaging guitar hook and a rising chorus indicative of a successful radio song, but don’t expect it to depose Florida-Georgia line or the gaggle of recent country rap singles from the upper echelons of country’s charts anytime soon.
Songs like “Dear Sobriety” and the acoustic “I Hope You’re The End of My Story” are star character witnesses for the argument that the Pistol Annies deserve to be considered an act that is really elevating the state of mainstream country music in 2013. Let’s not gloss over that these ladies wrote all of these songs themselves. And Annie Up also offers a bit of a reprieve from the feeling that The Pistol Annies are simply a “bit”– an opinion one could glean from their first album Hell on Heels with songs like “Takin’ Pills” and the title track.
But the Pistol Annies remain a self-described affectation with their character pseudonyms and seductive dress. It is a solid secondary project behind each member’s solo career, and this truth could always constitute a ceiling for the Pistol Annies’ success and long-term influence. At the same time, the side project aspect of the whole thing takes the pressure off of the artists to deliver big revenue numbers, and allows them to just have fun in a manner that is infectious with their audience, however slanted it is towards the female.
This post-breakup “get yourself together girl” narrative that seems to have popped up a lot in mainstream female country songs lately comes up again a couple of times on this album, and makes one wonder when that thread might erode to clichÃ©. And though each Pistol Annie brings an excellent voice in both skill and tone, I just don’t feel the meshing of pitch that pulls the emotion out of a song like you would expect from two and three part harmonies from remarkable singers. There’s a few distinct exceptions, like the sparse “I Hope You’re The End of My Story.” Miranda Lambert’s singing specifically seems to really emphasize her Southern accent, possibly to bolster the Pistol Annie sass they hoped to embed in this project.
It’s not as much that the Pistol Annies are an enigma themselves, it’s that they can become an enigma depending on your perspective. Better than most of what you hear on country radio? Certainly. A band of real pith and weight when compared to entire body of roots music in 2013? Maybe not. But not anywhere near the bottom, and maybe helping to challenge what’s at the bottom by bringing an elevated perspective of what real songwriting is to the passive music listener. Or at least the female one.
1 1/4 of 2 guns up as an album.
1 1/2 of 2 guns up as a mainstream album.
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May 7, 2013 @ 1:33 pm
I want to like them, but you’re right – the polished, too perfect, too slick feel detracts from it…for me anyway
And is it me or does AutoTune make them sound like Alvin and the Chipmunks on certain arrangements…
May 7, 2013 @ 2:17 pm
I had this same “chipmunk” conversation about a week ago. Their song Bad Example is a great example. When they all sing together on the chorus, it’s obviously Alvin rocking out.
The only reason I listen to the album is because my friend had it and I told her I was interested to see what they sound like ONLY because SCM recommended it when it first came out. I think Trigger said something along the lines of: this album could be a gateway to the underground from mainstream listeners. There are a few good songs on the first album. Most of them, I could live without ever hearing again.
May 7, 2013 @ 2:33 pm
I don’t remember saying that specifically, though I could have said that in a comment or in passing. Overall I would say that their first album is a little better, but only because it has a few standout songs. This one I struggled to find the standouts. “Bad Example” was a song I specifically panned in my review. “Beige” and “Housewife’s Prayer” I thought were pretty good.
Here’s my “Hell on Heels” review for anyone interested:
I don’t particularly hear “Chipmunks” as much, or even a distinct use of Auto-tune like I’ve heard with Florida- Georgia Line and Rascal Flatts, though I have no doubt it is here, at least in spots. It’s just that the harmonies have no life. Maybe the reason some are hearing chipmunks is because I really think they’re somewhat effecting their voices to sound extra feminine and extra Southern. At some point it takes the soul out of their tone. At least for me.
May 7, 2013 @ 2:17 pm
I love “Blues, You’re A Buzzkill”. Beautiful!
May 7, 2013 @ 2:25 pm
For the fact that this is more a side project than anything, I can appreciate it for all it is: an opportunity for Lambert, Monroe and Presley to release additional music that is more loose and……..kinetic, shall I say……..that would largely fall out of place on their own respective solo releases.
When all is said and done, however, Ashley Monroe’s self-titled release and, to a lesser extent this group’s self-titled debut offering, will have a lot more recurrent presence in my library than “Annie Up” ever will. Still, as considerably inferior as it may to their debut album, this is a better-than-decent effort.
May 7, 2013 @ 2:26 pm
Better this than Lady Ampleboredom any day of the week for sure! 😉
May 7, 2013 @ 3:11 pm
I thoroughly enjoy both of their albums. I think this is some of the best music coming out of Nashville right now in my opinion, including Ashley Monroe’s new album. As a guy I enjoy their sultry sassy southern charm persona that is projected throughout their albums. I also enjoy that they tend to lean more towards the traditional side of things not so worried about the next big hit. I do worry that the whole female “don’t take no shit attitude” is going to get old after awhile.
I would listen to Pistol Annies, Ashley Monroe, Holly Williams, and Kacey Musgraves any day over the country hip hop that is being peddled through the male country side of Nashville.
May 7, 2013 @ 7:33 pm
As with Kacey and Ashley’s albums earlier this year, I probably wouldn’t have considered buying this one (I plan on picking it up a couple days) had I not been able to stream it online first — I checked it out on a whim and found most of the songs utterly addictive. 😀
The snappy harmonizing of “I Feel a Sin Comin’ On” sucked me right in, and the next three tracks (“Hush Hush,” “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” and “Unhappily Married”) were also quick to win me over. But oddly enough, it was the quieter moments like “Blues, You’re a Buzz Kill,” “Trading One Heartbreak for Another,” “Dear Sobriety” and “I Hope You’re the End of My Story” that really kept me coming back for more; I hope that if these gals stick around, they continue to include more songs in this introspective vein (alongside the fun stuff, of course).
Also, while I don’t mind a bit of sassy attitude, I hope that they ease up a bit more on the bad-girl shtick before it hardens into the female equivalent of their male peers’ faux-outlaw poses.
P.S.: I may also be willing to take another look at ‘Hell on Heels,’ which I checked out on Grooveshark recently. While I was amused by tracks like the title cut, “The Hunter’s Wife” and “Takin’ Pills,” I found serious moments like “Beige” and “Housewife’s Prayer” (as well as the darkly comic “Family Feud”) more intriguing.
May 7, 2013 @ 8:12 pm
I have not listened to their new album (I have been busy). However, I like their sassy attitude. To me, a girl that is proud of who she is and is sassy is a desireable trait. The fact that they are who they are and they don’t care about what you think makes me love them. I have never found a group that takes the trio approach (each one sings a different version) to a better level than them. I love their songs (as a guy) and I will admit that they are polished but if they were not as polished they would probably lose more than they would gain. Also, it is kind of like how Miranda Lambert was in “Gunpowder and Lead” and Carrie Underwood in “Before He Cheats”, with country music having women as force to be reconed (sp). with.
May 7, 2013 @ 10:05 pm
so into, “damn thing.”
May 8, 2013 @ 8:21 am
Might have to pick this one up, it’s pretty good. Their style reminds me of old 90’s mainstream country
May 8, 2013 @ 1:02 pm
Never heard the term “gender music” but I get the concept Trig is trying to explain with it. I agree this is geared to gals. But it doesn’t need to be a negative or spun as a ploy. I’m not buying up Loretta Lynn stuff. I like her, but I’m a guy and her music is geared to women.
I do have a little bone to pick with the comment “But an independent or traditional country fan”™s ear is going to pick up on a polished sound, lyrical performances that are too perfect, slick and predictable arrangements, and still a somewhat formulaic approach to songwriting despite whatever depth.”
A polished sound and good lyrical perfomance has nothing to do with why a independent or traditional country fan might not like this. There are plenty of independent artists and traditional county that are polish and near perfect lyrical and vocal performances. See George Jones, Vern Gosdin, Merle Haggard, etc…
Auto tune is a tool used in todays music. Had it been around in 1950 it would have been used. I makes bad artists sound better, but doesn’t hurt good artists, thus doesn’t hurt the music.
I know Trigger didn’t mean it this way, but some take and run with it, but polished up, studio music isn’t always bad or “selling out”. You don’t have sound like you are in a rest room with a tape deck to convince me your are authentic or country. Just like recording in a studio doesn’t mean you aren’t authentic or country.
May 8, 2013 @ 7:11 pm
I struggled whether to use the word “polished” or “overproduced” in that sentence, neither of which really fit because of the connotations, so I settled with “polished.” I agree there’s nothing wrong with polished albums, or taking the time to make it sound good and right. However the approach to the vocals on this album dehumanized them. They just feel like they have been so heavily processed that they’re more machine than man (or woman) now. Reading some of the comments, it appears this concern was warranted. Whatever verbiage you want to assign to it, they should have left a little bit of life in the lyrics instead of trying to make them perfect.
May 20, 2013 @ 4:21 pm
Actually, I think polished is very apt. (Heck, I think ‘gender music’ is as well, though I fall on the “woman who doesn’t like ’em side of the line.) I’ll admit I haven’t bothered listening to the new album, but that’s because the first one irked me so much. The polish and those inhuman harmonies both stood out to me on Hell on Heels, and really it’s all just too much for my tastes. Man, they make Sunny Sweeney sound like she’s got gravel in her voice in comparison. The Pistol Annies remind me too much of the Mandrell Sisters.
May 11, 2013 @ 9:00 am
Thier new album is genius! Just got my copy here: http://smarturl.it/AnnieUpPre
June 27, 2013 @ 6:28 am
So my wife was watching the video for Hush Hush last night and I take a peek and I’ll be damned if the video doesn’t feature Bob Wayne’s guitar player Ryan Clackner. Seems like an awful strange pairing. Check it out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OkvjhWirED8