One of the biggest criticisms of country music these days are how far away from “country” the genre has been getting. More often, singles and artists are more worried about having radio friendly crossover hits than they are for being true to who they are and true to artistry. Then came along Miranda Lambert. The Texan was already having the best two years of her life personally and professionally before she formed an all-girls group with best friends Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley. While many fans were worried about this “side project” put on by the reining female vocalist of the year, turns out that nervousness was for nothing: The Pistol Annies are as country as Loretta Lynn. No joke about it, these girls are a force to be reckoned with. The girls might just have the best country album this year. So much for just being a side project, huh?
The album starts off with the lead single, and title track, “Hell on Heels”. The girls debut as a group was with the single on ACM: Girls Night Out when Miranda was being honored: that’s a lot of pressure! The first track, like the rest of the album, is pure country and mean. These aren’t the kind of women that you want on your bad side, and they prove it over and over again. The three girls sing about all the men they’ve dated and how they kept the material things from the relationships. Ashley still uses one of her exes’ credit cards in the song. Ouch.
“Lemon Drop” shows off the quirky, unique songwriting by Angaleena. The song actually appeared on one of her earlier albums, but this time around she’s joined by her fellow Annies in harmony. The song is about sucking up the bad things that are happening right now because life will get better: but in a funnier, and darker, way of saying it. The song focuses on a poor woman who can’t afford much, but she still knows that there are “better days ahead.” It’s a play-on-repeat kind of song. The lyrics are smart, much like most of the album. I never heard the original version of the song but I love it!
“Beige” is one of the prettier songs on “Hell On Heels.” The song, written about a bride who is four months pregnant on her wedding day, is stuck wearing beige instead of a white dress because of it. It’s definitely classic country but still powerful. I’ve listened to the track three or four times in a row since I first heard it: not only are the lyrics beautiful, but the simple production on the song is beautiful. It really paints the picture for the listener.
“Bad Example” is my favorite track off of the album. The three girls are proud that they aren’t one of those high-class, prim and proper kind of folk. They’re proud of being the bad examples of the town, showing the higher-ups how not to act. They trade barbs on how they’re happy living in a trailer instead of a mansion and working in a bar instead of going to college. They’re frustrated that no one else wants to be the “Bad Example” because it’s what they were born to do. It’s a new take on the tough girl act, but it’s still something you could hear on a Sunday morning listening to classic country radio. It’s a must download if you want to hear “real” country music.
“Housewife’s Prayer” was one of the short clips that fans saw in the Introducing the Pistol Annies YouTube videos created by the girls in studio. It sounds like something that could have easily fit in on Miranda’s “Revolution,” especially with all the talk of setting a house on fire. The song was written when Angaleena was really going through a divorce and seriously considered setting the house on fire to solve her problems: but she wrote the song instead! Good thing for that, as it’s one of the stronger tracks on the album which is packed with great songs. It’s pretty but depressing at the same time, and yet again, the three women show off their songwriting skills.
“Takin’ Pills” is the funnier of the tracks on “Hell On Heels.” Ashley, Angaleena and Miranda trade jabs back and forth throughout the song, blaming each other for why they don’t have any money to pay the band. They have been singing this live at stops on Miranda’s “Revolution Continues” tour this Summer. It’s a funny song that girlfriends will probably be posting to each other on Facebook, or singing to each other once they hear it. In case you’re wondering: Miranda is the drinker, Ashley is the pill popper, and Angaleena is the cigarette smoker in the song. The girls proudly share that they aren’t ashamed of who they are, and that they love playing for tips and aren’t trying to get rich. The song is another one of the must-download tracks from the album. It’s fantastic!
“Boys From The South” is probably the most radio friendly track out of them all. It’s the Lambert-Monroe-Presley version of a love song, and as close as the trio will get on the album. They share what it is about Southern boys that they love, and all the states that the boy from the south that they haven’t met yet could be. It’s a groovy little track that will fit in well at radio and I really do hope it gets released, even if Miranda has a single out right now (“Baggage Claim”). I think it would prove that the group are more than just a for-fun side project for the women. I’m all for this becoming permanent. It’s a gorgeous easy listening song, which I’ve only heard acoustically previously from our video at the Miranda Lambert Ran Fan Rendezvous Fan Club Party earlier this year.
“The Hunter’s Wife” sounds like what Miranda could be living right now. In the song, the woman is sick of her husband’s constant hunting instead of spending time with her at home. She’s sick of his hobby now and wants some love from him, but she doesn’t know how to fix the problem. She’s “married to a shotgun.” It’s a song that wouldn’t be believable coming from any other group of girls out there right now: The Pistol Annies can sell it. And you can actually see it happening. While it’s not a radio friendly song, it’s still a tongue-in-cheek classic song that I wish was performed live by the group.
“Trailer For Rent” was a song that I was really interested in hearing. I had no idea what it was about based on title alone. Miranda, in the song, is sick of her husband’s antics and has decided to place a newspaper ad to rent the trailer since her “husband’s pissed me off for the last time.” It’s something that only the Annies could come up with. The trailer comes with a few dents from her taking out her frustration, but there’s no down payment if you’re still interested. Like just about every other track on the trio’s debut, the lyrics don’t take any shortcuts. What girl hasn’t felt the same way about a relationship in the past?
“Family Feud” is the one track that the girls got outside help on. In an interview this morning on Sirius/XM’s the Highway, the girls explained how they roped Blake Shelton AKA Pistol Andy into the song by throwing a guitar his way and asking him to “play a few licks.” The comedic tune is about how a family fights over possessions before the loved one has even been buried for a week. It’s a fun little song that all three girls take turns in singing about the evils of family and greed after a death. And, again, Miranda brings up her love of burning things down.
The album is fantastic, although short. I wish it were longer, as Miranda’s albums usually are. It’s solid. The only thing holding it back is that there aren’t any tracks that scream a top 10 hit, but that’s also what makes it so good: the girls didn’t shortchange anything in their debut album as the Pistol Annies. It’s a modern-day revival of Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. In a time where so many acts try so hard to be pop-country, or sacrifice lyrics and artistry for radio hits and fame, it’s a refreshing and welcome change to the industry. “Hell On Heels” could very well find its way up for an album of the year nomination at at least one of the two major country award shows.
What’s interesting is Sony Nashville’s plan of only releasing physical copies of the album on the Pistol Annies official online store: which only sells to American citizens. International fans are feeling left out, but can still purchase the album on iTunes. That will, sadly, bring down record sales of what could be a huge album. Country music has been missing an all female trio since the days of the Dixie Chicks, and they may have just found their fix in the Annies.
ALBUM: Hell On Heels
RATING: 9.5 out of 10
Download: Hell on Heels, Bad Example, Boys From The South, Takin’ Pills, Beige.