If you’ve been wondering what the socially liberal and politically conservative millennial American woman has on her mind, put on the third album from the Pistol Annies, Interstate Gospel. On the LP, three of country’s best artists advocate for legalizing (and normalizing) pot, the feminist act of taking your name and identity back after a divorce, and the attraction of a dude who keeps a shotgun in his truck rack. And, per the album’s title, that old-time religion certainly rears its head.
On a micro level, the Pistol Annies (made up of country superstar Miranda Lambert and her two friends, lauded songwriters and solo artists in their own right, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe), spend a lot of energy considering rough patches in relationships and the ways the world uses women up. It’s tempting to attribute a lot of the lyrics to Lambert’s notorious love life that includes a divorce from Blake Shelton and their rebound romances -- his with Gwen Stefani, hers with an up-and-coming singer and then a married man (guess which one Us Weekly was all over?). But the trio won’t admit to any of these songs being autobiographical. On repeat listens, it gets harder and harder to figure out what is a character sketch, born of the experiences of womanhood, and what’s taken from real life.
The trio, who wrote all the songs together, describe making an album as a “slumber party with guitars,” which probably explains where they get the courage to air so much dirty laundry. The album’s starting point was “When I Was His Wife,” a lament on a cheating husband that Lambert was toying with. Its lead single, “Got My Name Changed Back,” garners a lot of attention for its accusations of cheating with “road whores,” but the bigger picture is a tongue-in-cheek look at the deeply unfun process of all the paperwork women have to file just to get their original identity back after a divorce. “Leavers Lullabye” looks at the flip side, creating a Kentucky-fried lament of the woman who won’t be changed by the love of a man (“Run along little daddy, take the dog and the house and dang me / It ain’t worth the time that it’s gonna take to change me”). And in “Best Years of My Life” the group invokes the lives of sitcom wives, bemoaning everyday boredom while advocating for “recreational Percocet” and the search for “intellectual emptiness”; the narrator “didn’t think I could do better so I settled down.” It’s all set to a melody you can’t shake.
There’s a song for “Cheyenne,” a woman who loves “nightlife and trashy tattoos” and won’t cry when her latest relationship is over, as well as one for the woman who wishes her mama would stop judging her imperfections (“Milkman”). And there’s a bookend to “Takin’ Pills” from their debut album to be found in “Stop Drop and Roll One,” where the personalities, and vices, of all three women get some shine.
The Pistol Annies aren’t breaking any new ground here; this is all territory tread for decades in country music by everyone from Loretta Lynne to June Carter to Tanya Tucker to Carrie Underwood and Kacey Musgraves. What makes their voices so interesting is the blending of the points of view of three women, whether they prefer Tylenol, Adderal, or a drink in their hand. It gives room for a broader view, where you meet the woman who wants a sugar daddy with a rifle in his truck (“Sugar Daddy”) or one who reckons with a sordid family history on a turnip farm (“5 Acres of Turnips”) or another who wrestles with how to handle an incarcerated relative( “Commissary”). So many of the ways relationships and lives fall apart get a moment under the microscope, thanks to their trifecta of voices.
What remains to be seen:if country radio will give them a microphone to amplify them.