It’s Country We Should Have Covered Yonks Ago Monday!
Alfred Soto: For those bored of Miranda Lambert’s gunpowder-and-lead routine (I’m not!), here’s a collaboration that at first sounds like a sequel but is instead a “reboot” as startling as any in music. Accompanied by Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, Lambert sounds scarier and sexier than ever. Whether embodying a gold digger, kept woman or executive, these three women scrub the sexism from the title trope (Monroe sings like Jessica Lange acts in Crimes of the Heart: a woman embarassed by her beauty and good fortune). Lambert toughens Monroe and Presley, while she gets an education in what goes on in deluxe high rises.
Jonathan Bradley: A slow and grim smoulder as captivating as the devil intended. “I’m gonna break me a million hearts,” the trio vows, and that cannot be anything but the least of their intended malfeasance.
Katherine St Asaph: Blame blogs, blame the hype cycle, blame the States’ lack of proper girl groups, blame Miranda Lambert’s able puncturing of that stealth compartment where critics keep their love. Pistol Annies have gone from complete non-entity to unmissable in about three months. Already watchers are trying to assign them the roles of Dolly and Linda and Emmylou, or maybe just Natalie, Emily and Martie. It helps that they arrived with a fully-formed concept that’d drive the Spice Girls to one more sobriquet each: Southern ladies of grit and prettiness, of Annie Oakley references and sepia-aged frocks and just enough badness that one suspects they’d be equally likely to titillate or trounce you. This concept works or doesn’t depending on how much the Annies show versus tell. Thankfully “Hell On Heels” shows, between their meticulously catalogued trophies — the upscale, like land and high-rises and yachts, down to marginalia like a pink yet brandless guitar — and the menace stirred up by the guitars and skulking pace. It’s almost too good, as no subsequent Pistol Annies track has yet equalled it, but why judge a fire by its subsequent flicker?
Brad Shoup: I completely love that the Annies have made gold-digging a mythic act, divorced from revenge, devoid of rational explanation. Half these marks don’t even seem to deserve it — “Poor old Billy, bless his heart” is probably the best and cruelest joke. The singers are slotted perfectly, working from Angeleena Presley’s affectlessness (she pronounces “Mexico” like she’s giving a deposition) to Lambert’s smirk, kicking in as soon as the drums get urgent, to Ashley Monroe’s deceptive high-and-lonesome. The band brings the whole thing to a boil in top-notch swamp-pop mode, like the murkier moves of CCR, Bobbie Gentry, Jace Everett et al. We can get to playing “Dolly, Emmylou or Linda” later — the grift seldom feels this good.
Erick Bieritz: Wide-screen maximalism is big in several pop genres, and country is no exception. So it’s commendable that the band passes up several junctures where it would have been easy to go all Meatloaf on this track and instead stays with the slow burn throughout, which is appropriate for a song about women who don’t need to raise their voices to get what they want.
Hazel Robinson: For about 30 seconds I thought this was going to be a narrative along the lines of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” viz. “this diamond ring’s the only good thing I got from that man,” but fortunately, gloriously, no — it’s a languid, sinister cowgirl anthem to unapologetic criminality with each boast worse than the last. A drunken campfire attempt to outdo each other’s notoriety, it understands to go big to be bad, but the stories keep an element of threat through the sparse arrangement. If some idiot does a rock version of this, I will despair.
Anthony Easton: Y’all have heard the cover of “Hit ‘Em Up Style” by the Carolina Chocolate Drops, right? It did this amazing alchemical thing that talked about how the excesses of country music history and African American musical history could be fruit from the same tree. It also made credit card fraud a working-class revenge strategy for everyone. What I love about this is that there is no excuse at all for the sheer audacity of the economic morality. No history, no genre exercise, just “I’m talented, and I deserve this lack of justification.” It’s like what the Carolina Chocolate Drops did, but stripped of anything but pleasure for pleasure’s sake. Which is so fucking awesome that I want the honor of them clearing out all 45 dollars in my chequing account.
Edward Okulicz: Their voices drip attitude if not quite the devilish menace the lyrics aspire to, and above chugging guitars they’re positively sirenic. It reminds me a bit of Kasey Chambers’ “Barricades & Brickwalls” with harmonies and forceful singing, and that’s fine by me.
Alex Ostroff: This is possibly the best thing I’ve heard from Miranda Lambert since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Much as I enjoyed Revolution, her persona and the songs reflecting it began to feel repetitive and predictable. Pistol Annies gives her two more voices to work with and against, not only as a singer, but also as a songwriter. The Annies stretch out their delivery deliberately, with the chorus’s gorgeous three-part harmonies book-ending a showcase for each of them in turn. Best of all, however, is that this is merely a teaser for an entire excellent album of Ashley, Angaleena and Miranda trading off writing and vocal duties.