somehow i sort of missed pistol annies (angeleena presley, miranda lambert, and ashley monroe), like when i did my 2013 top five country albums. i had them vaguely in mind as a bit of fun commercial exploitation, a kind of country spice girls. nothing could be wronger, or - looking at it the other way round - less right. instead, for lambert, it is a shelter from the demands of being the queen of country music. the music is extremely traditionalist, the arrangements sparse and direct. the harmonies are very lovely.
[left to right: monroe, presley handling the low end, lambert]
one reason i missed them is that it took me awhile to catch up with monroe and realize that she is the great whitegirl hope, one of the very best singers and writers working in any genre today. pistol annies is to a large degree a vehicle for monroe; she's all over the writing, and perhaps also the dominant vocal presence. miranda lambert is actually quite a wonderful singer, which shows here even more clearly than on her solo records, and she writes up a storm too.
the material is part of the current revival of a great country tradition: the realistic, detailed representation of the lives and emotions of working-class women, as in the work of brandy clark and kacey musgraves. the whole country chart right now is filled with "get drunk and fuck" party songs; pistol annies gives you the various dark sides, which again is a return to the tradition, with various new flavors. the whole thing would sound great on the radio, but it is definitely not in the mode of the moment. lambert has to compromise with that if she wants to win a fifth acm best female vocalist award, but she also wants to do other things. that is admirable.
the closest analogy might be the 'trio' albums from the 80s: emmylou harris, linda ronstadt, and dolly parton.
god that is an incredible performance, and if i had to choose, i would choose dolly, emmylou, and linda as singers. no one needs to be embarassed about losing that competition, though i am beginning to hear ashley monroe as a singer getting to that level. but if i had to choose between the repertoires, i'd take the annies': they write their own songs (unlike DEL), and i actually didn't much listen to the DEL albums because of the songs. you know 'sandman' was just a gimmick, etc.