The last time I heard this much twang in Miranda Lambert’s voice was nine (maybe ten-I’m getting old) years ago. She was beltin’ out tunes in a club in San Antonio, just a teenager. Thick East Texas accent, dirty blond hair, looking even younger than she sounded. Her mother had been parading her around Honky Tonks and competitions relentlessly, anything to get her noticed. But even then, Miranda seemed completely focused on her music. She wrote her own songs, she played guitar and led the band, and it was clear she was a tough little cookie-she held her own against a drunk patron who kept catcalling her throughout the performance. It’s not common knowledge how hard Lambert worked back then, paying her dues amongst the drunks, hard male Texas egos, and those prejudiced against her age.
Then came Nashville Star, and the rest is history. It seems Miranda’s strong attitude only increased (which we love) as she turned into the country superstar she is today, but her twang diminished with each commercial release. That is, until, Pistol Annies.
I was pleasantly surprised by the formation of the Pistol Annies, and the announcement of a full album project, Hell On Heels. First of all, the fact that Miranda had enough guts to put her career on the line by bringing in two gals unknown to the public (although respected in musician circles), is refreshing. She used her name to elevate their careers, to let loose on topics best left off of safe commercial releases and to have good clean (well, maybe dirty) fun.
Into the picture come Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe. Together the trio make magic. Strong, talented young women exercising their songwriting chops, creating freely and providing good quality music that is fun, entertaining and substantive. The whole album is made up of good material. This is not overproduced, over tracked, dulled down music that makes up most of today’s County radio.
Miranda leads throughout the album, but lets each girl shine at respective moments, and keeps the arrangements interesting and multidimensional. Despite their differences, the three women compliment each other well. and their chemistry ignites right off the bat. Leading with the title track is “Hell On Heels,” a humorous song that reveals each of the girls’ vocal chops, and making it clear that these are women In Charge. From “Takin’ Pills” (about the vices of three women trying to pay their dues-and the band) to “Bad Example,” the song content defies all that is modern convention. This is true country music, singing about the issues women face -sometimes with humor, sometimes with heartbreak. Take “Lemon Drop” …
“My life is like a lemon drop
I’m sucking on the bitter to get to the sweet part
I know there are better days ahead…”
Miranda picked two gems to work with here. Ashley’s showcase on “Beige” is beautifully heartbreaking, and Angaleena’s “Housewife Prayer” is completely compelling, desperate and moving. There’s more solid country with “The Hunter’s Wife”, and Miranda’s “East Texas” comin’ through strong on “Trailer For Rent.”
The women seem to be saying, –If men can talk about drugs and sex, why can’t we? And let’s talk about how hard it really is out there, while we are at it. Well, I say, Damn Straight. And you can bet your ass all the labels in Nashville (now that they’ve seen the success Pistol Annies is accumulating) will be touting out copy cats that have 1/100th of the talent, and won’t have a clue why their new “formula” won’t work. That’s because Pistol Annies are giving it real.
With this record as a new barometer, it is possible things on Music Row could change for the better. All of the women on this album deserve kudos for a hell of a job, and Miranda has shown herself to be a true Artist -one who wants to grow, create, and innovate.
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Andrea Fennel is native Texan who was raised outside of San Antone, and now resides in the outskirts of Phoenix. She freelances for several music publications. She plays the piano, saxophone, guitar and cello and enjoys hiking, hang gliding, and certain hippie activities.
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