Review by George Dayton, WTJU Folk Librarian/Cosmic American Jamboree Host
Hell on Heels
(Sony Nashville label)
The Pistol Annies' debut release, Hell on Heels, is a collaboration between country music superstar Miranda Lambert and two lesser known singer songwriters - Ashley Monroe, who has released two albums, and Angaleena Presley. The three women co-wrote all the songs on the CD, and it is their songwriting, solid vocals and terrific harmonies that carry it. The backing band uses simple, acoustic arrangements that compliment the trio well but never take the spotlight.
There are only 10 songs on the album, but none are throwaways. All the women are from different parts of the south (Lambert from Texas, Presley from east Tennessee and Monroe from the Kentucky hill country), and the music traditions from those areas show up in their songs: bluegrass style harmonies, classic country and hard edged barroom numbers blend throughout the album, which is perfect for the working class, hard time themes prevalent in the songs. Some of the numbers are lighthearted. There is Hell on Heels, about a woman who wants to use her looks and brains to get as much as she can; Takin’ Pills, about each of the trio’s (presumed) primary bad habits; Bad Example, about a working class girl who likes a good time in life.
All these are cleverly written and delivered with conviction even though self parody is part of the fun. Then there are the slice-of-southern-life songs. In Beige, they sing about a marriage ceremony of a bride who is already pregnant. The dreary scene, contrasted with what is usually considered a joyous event, is captured in the spare line “Daddy’s pride and joy is marryin’ some boy”, which is delivered with a slow, laconic tempo. And in Family Feud, they draw a picture of a family engaged in looting the home of their mother who died a few days before (“Only thing they’re grievin’ over’s what they ain’t gonna get…”) In Lemon Drop, they describe a woman who is living through hard times hoping for better down the road (“I got dirty shirts and worn out jeans, I owe two dozen quarters to a washing machine..”). There are also songs of disappointing marriages as well (Housewife’s Lament, The Hunter’s Wife and Trailer for Rent), with disappointment, bitterness and sometimes sarcasm mixed in. In The Hunter’s Wife, for example, “If he ain’t huntin’, he’s watchin’ the show”, and “I’m sick of squirrel gravy, sick of coon stew, fence posts, shock collars, chicken wire, too…” The only sweet number is Boys from the South, which describes their attraction to Southern men, though it is fair to wonder why given their songs about relationships with those men. In each song, lyrics are tight, draw a picture of a person or situation and are delivered with force. Hopefully, this isn’t a one-off collaboration.