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Music Review: Pistol Annies – Hell on Heels

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All it took was one fateful phone call two years ago for a new revolution of music to begin bubbling. Pistol Annies, comprised of Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert, set in motion a life-changing cycle that set fire to the music scene. At the ACM Women of Country, the trio made their live performance debut with lead single, “Hell on Heels,” which is the title track of their first disc. Dabbling in a traditional sound and rock flair, Pistol Annies have clutched tightly to the old way of doing things while peeling away an artistic vision on Hell on Heels.

The title cut and lead single, “Hell on Heels,” was written by the vocal trio and scratches out a nifty comparision to being so mischievous that they are “hell on heels.” Be warned, gentlemen, they’ve “done made the devil a deal” and they plan to come after you. With a fiery string foundation and a cleverly devious melodic line, Presley, Monroe, and Lambert kick off a profound set that fits the void left by the Dixie Chicks’ departure. While quite similar to the late-1990’s and early 2000’s group, Pistol Annies differs in that they take the gasoline and pack of matches and blaze a completely fresh journey into female revenge and empowerment. “This diamond ring on my hand’s the only good thing that came from that man,” Presley swells in the first verse. Guitar riffs and boisterous drums can not keep these girls from biting venom into your very ear drums.

“Lemon Drop,” penned by Presley, is a lovely metaphor of life to, well, a lemon drop. “My life is like a lemon drop. I’m sucking on the bitter to get to the sweet part,” she croons. With some crisp steel guitar, the track is quite reminiscent of a Loretta Lynn sound and way of storytelling. The message is clear: keep your head up because there are better days ahead. Easily a fun loving romp with built in whistling, “Lemon Drop” is smooth, tart, and doesn’t let go, until the release of “amen” at the end. Country music prides itself in creating relatable stories, and in this current economic climate, all of America will certainly see themselves in this song.

Pistol Annies aren’t afraid to take on controversy, much like Lynn with “Pills” and “Rated X.” With “Beige,” written by Lambert and Monroe, the Annies explore an unplanned pregnancy and the resulting nuptials. The sweeping ballad is lyrically simplistic but leaves the arrangement to embody the pain and heartache that come with bad life choices. The stigma that bleeds from pre-marriage pregnancy is front and center. “Everyone in this place knows I didn’t wait,” Monroe confesses. In a small town, seemingly the setting of this track, lies and mistakes are hard to camouflage. The girl, hoping no one notices her extra weight, is content with a “quick I do and then back home again.” Music transcends society, and coming in at just three minutes, “Beige” left-hooks you in the jaw and rips your heart from your chest.

“Bad Example,” crafted by Lambert and Monroe, takes a page from the Judds and Mary Chapin Carpenter. Guitars flood the arrangement, and at the outset, Pistol Annies rear back and lash out. “Nobody ’round here wants to ramble. What the hell, that’s what I was born to do,” they sing. Poking fun at society, they point out their “Honk if Your Horny” sticker, girls whose daddies buy them college degrees, and living out of a tip jar. As “a third generation bartender,” she’s content living a simple yet rowdy lifestyle, and she’s doesn’t care who notices. Then again, someone had to be the bad example, right?

The simple life, however, comes with a toll. On “Housewife’s Prayer,” an overworked and over tired woman is “about to go off the deep end.” Clocking in at two minutes and forty-eight seconds, “Prayer” is a story of wanting more in life and not being able to make ends meet. “I’ve been thinking about setting my house on fire,” the housewife recounts after much deliberation. Pushing the lyrics to the limits, the track may give some women the wrong idea. In much the same way that Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats” inspired women to seek revenge on the cheater’s automobile, this album cut punctures to the core human nature and gushes steam from a troubled life. What better way than to set the very thing that causes you grief ablaze?

From the boot-scootin’-inspired guitar intro to the free wheeling vocals, “Takin’ Pills,” another trio penned song, is relentless on the sassy hilarity. “Who in the hell’s gonna pay these bills when one’s drinkin’, one’s smokin’, one’s takin’ pills,” they echo on the chorus. A free life begets lousy results. As the lyrics tell the tale of a Kentucky born and raised gal, one begins to wonder if the lyrics are autobiographical. Presley, often called “Holler Annie,” is from the hills of Kentucky, and Monroe, aka “Hippie Annie,” is from Eastern Tennessee, right around the same area as in the song. Regardless if the lyrics bare some truth, what the three Annies have done is create a timeless piece of work. Pushing boundaries is certainly a thread deeply sewn into each track, and “Pills” just may be the gutsiest entry yet.

“Boys from the South,” written by Lambert and Monroe, takes a surprising twist as a touching love letter. Listing off (possible) lost loves, Pistol Annies pull back on the edgy vengeance-fumed anthems and deliver a sensitive and heartfelt performance. “Maybe he’s in Georgia, staring at the stars,” Lambert swoons on the first verse. By making generalizations about love, they somehow manage to activate the tear ducts, as everyone can relate to the inevitable occurrence of a broken heart. Tenderly, the sweet melody and chorus, along with the adequately plucked strings, make this song an album highlight.

Similarly, like most songs on Hell on Heels, “The Hunter’s Wife” draws from a country upbringing. This woman has a problem and she “can’t figure no way out.” She then compares her “shotgun carrying, tobacco chewing” husband to a dog, which is absolutely obsessed with hunting and fishing. Take country music as a whole, which deals in real issues and problems of the common man, and this song is the embodiment of housewives who are relegated into making “squirrel gravy” and “coon stew.” Perhaps this track is not first-grade radio single material, but it certainly marks itself as an enjoyable and easy listening recording. With a simple, sing-along chorus, “Wife” is a definite ear worm looking to be snagged up.

Speaking of being fed up, in “Trailer for Rent,” written by Lambert, a woman decides it’s time to do something about her dead-end life. She’s “tired of his shit,” and so she heads to the local newspaper to place an ad for her humble abode, holes and all. The arrangement fits snuggly in a traditional sound, and the simple lyrics inject enough bite to be memorable. Lambert has a way of taking a bare boned melodic line and spicing it up with her attitude to manufacture a gripping story. This track could have easily appeared on her own solo album.

Even on the closing track, “Family Feud,” written with Blake Shelton, Lambert’s husband, Pistol Annies work their way to the fine line of right and wrong. Interestingly enough, the song is about a family that suffers a death but all they can think about is who gets what. After a shotgun is ripped from the wall, a family feud breaks out as members of the dysfunctional family fight over dishes, rings, and a cedar chest. “Cause the good Lord giveth and the family taketh away,” the trio sing on the last verse. As the old saying goes, money is the root of all evil, right?

Must Listens: “Hell on Heels,” “Beige,” “Boys from the South,” “Trailer for Rent”

Rating: 3 out of 5

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About Jason Scott

  • DreamKrazy

    Great review. I like this album much better much better than “Four For The Record” Much more life in this album like in Miranda’s previous albums. Not sure how how much country radio will their songs though.