Release Date: May 7, 2013
Record label: RCA
Genre(s): Country, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Country, Country-Pop
There may be better bands than Pistol Annies, but what band is more of a hoot? The second LP by the all-female supergroup – Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley – is, like its 2011 debut, full of attitude and guffaws, delivered in three-part harmony over down-home country. "Hush Hush" is a rockabilly romp about family secrets; "Damn Thing" is a bluegrass-suffused bad girl's anthem. But there's pathos beneath the jokes.
Why did Miranda Lambert choose to form a group at the height of her career? At first, it seemed she used Pistol Annies as a way to catapult kindred spirits Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley into the spotlight, but now that this objective has been achieved -- Monroe got loosened from the muck of the Music City, winding up delivering the terrific solo album Like a Rose early in 2013 -- there doesn't seem to be much reason for Lambert to stick with the trio. Far from leaving her comrades behind, Miranda doubled down with the Pistol Annies' second album Annie Up, a record that feels in every sense like a thoroughly integrated effort; the work of a group, not three individuals. All three share common bonds -- based on these songs, none of the Pistol Annies are content within their relationships, they're comfortable burying family secrets ("Hush Hush"), and are stubborn enough to live forever ("Unhappily Married") -- and the striking thing about Annie Up is how there is no clear separation between Lambert, Monroe, and Presley; they aren't just equals, but their stories meld into a singular narrative, three voices mining all the pain and pleasure of love and loss in the 21st century, as they trade verses, write from the same shared perspective, and tell tales nobody else dares to.
Back in the early 2000s, the Dixie Chicks seemed unstoppable. A near unprecedented run of widely acclaimed platinum-selling albums made them the belles of every Nashville ball; their sassy demeanor and sly singles like ”Goodbye Earl” brought them to a whole new pop audience. Then came frontwoman Natalie Maines’ infamous onstage takedown of then President George W.
They worked better as a cartoon than a franchise. Like most follow-ups, this is deliberate rather than freewheeling, and you can tell by such attempted concepts as “Blues, You’re a Buzz Kill” and “Dear Sobriety. ” You can also tell by the thudding electric band that puts concrete boots on “Unhappily Married” and “Loved by a Workin’ Man.
Somewhere between a supergroup and a side project, Pistol Annies provide the country trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley a space for straight talking, wise cracking and convention busting. Their 2011 debut Hell on Heels is one of the finest recession albums, offering empathetic vignettes from lives of rural poverty. On its follow-up, the Annies cast their net wider, taking aim at nuclear family hypocrisy (Hush Hush, Unhappily Married), objectification and the beauty industry (Being Pretty Ain't Pretty) and alcoholism (Dear Sobriety).
Much of the appeal of Pistol Annies’ debut album, Hell on Heels, was the way the three singers—Miranda Lambert, Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe—took what seemed like a slim concept (that of mistreated women with a rebellious streak) and filled it up with emotions, stories and personas of interest. Annie Up, with a title resembling what might come after a colon in that of a Hollywood sequel, takes that filling-out a few steps further, in part by removing the vague resemblance they’ve had to a stage revue and working in more blues, patience and density. The tone is less introductory—less “we’re pill-taking housewives, nice to meet you.” They roll more naturally, confidently into a similar milieu.
On Annie Up, the country-outlaw trope gets repurposed to address the concerns of a modern small-town woman, who's torn between wanting to burn out in a blaze of booze, painkillers, smoke, and no-good men and adhering to a conservative pattern of husband, kids, farm, and church. The Pistol Annies share a kind of rustic sass with many of their female country forebears, though their bad-assery is more confrontational, more unabashed in its self-destructive grit. Collectively, the group's persona comes off like Loretta Lynn with an Oxycotin problem: The brassiest number on the Pistol Annies' debut, Hell on Heels, is titled “Takin' Pills,” and their new album features a breakup lament addressed “Dear Sobriety.