Album Review: Pistol Annies – Interstate Gospel

Five long years have passed since the Pistol Annies’ second album Annie Up and in that time Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley have all released critically acclaimed solo albums and been through some serious living. Thankfully Holler, Hippie and Lone Star Annie have finally found time in their busy and dramatic lives to reunite and record this new album, Interstate Gospel. And thank God they did because we need women’s voices in music, specifically country music, more than ever.

Women working together to tell their stories, to support each other, to raise each other up feels so vital right now. To hear an album of country songs free of the Nashville big machine, performed with a carefree mix of shared and lead vocals is so unusual in this current musical climate dominated by male solo artists and endless factory line songwriting. Here we have a truly collaborative set of songs by three women writing not just for each other, but for women everywhere.

The Annies have spoken about how they see this album like a hymnbook of songs which preach the truth. Therefore we rightly begin with a prayer – the Interstate Prelude. A rootsy song about faith, inspired by all those quintessential American church signs you see out on the road – their whimsy and wisdom reflected in the words that begin the album. Jesus is the bread of life, without him you’re toast. Examples of such humour are woven through the whole album.

Celebrating women and the drama of their lives is what the Annies do best and on Stop Drop and Roll One, they sing about themselves with a heady mix of whip smart humour and self-deprecating put downs. They may be messed up, burnt out like old prom queens but it’s not all bad – they remind us we can still party or take a moment for ourselves as the world burns.

Best Years of My Life gives Ashley Monroe her moment and the best lines on the album – ‘I’ve picked a good day for a recreational Percocet/ I’ve got an itch to just get high/ I’m in the middle of the worst of it / these are the best years of my life.’ There’s a real tone of desolation in how she sings those words, which is truly devastating. It’s no surprise then that the song was inspired by her own struggles with motherhood and you sense she understands just how fucking tired all women are right now. There’s so much about the state of domestic politics bubbling under the surface of these songs. Men are failing, marriage is failing, women are being sold a narrative of fairytale bullshit which only causes pain and suffering when it inevitably crumbles.

Waking up to the bitter reality of your life is also the subject of Five Acres of Turnips.  You’ve got to love a country song about farming sung from the female perspective, Five acres of Turnips / ripe for the picking / The sweat and the blood ought to be enough / to keep me going. Now anyone who’s ever worked the land will hear the truth in the song, but it also spins some nice metaphors about the pain of family secrets. Something beautiful comes out of this dirt and songs like these are a richly rewarding harvest.

When I Was His Wife is a clever three part song, sung from the perspective of women who all believed in the lie of ‘holy matrimony, best day of your life’. Maybe they all married the same man, or maybe they’re all just singing about their own loser husbands but the end result is the same: heartbreak and disillusionment. Masterpiece explores a more public marriage, with the lead sung by Miranda. She couldn’t make the marriage last, it became nothing more than a ‘rodeo’, a show that looked better on the surface than behind closed doors. The pressure of fame and how you can be ‘bought and sold’ is exposed with the bitter reality that your real heartbreak is nothing more than entertainment for an uncaring public. Turning your story into a song might be somewhat ironic but there’s nothing better than classic country for exorcising demons.

But hey, at least when a marriage goes wrong you can still get your name changed back. On this fun and fucking hilarious song the Annies channel the vintage girl group vibe and make divorce sound like nothing more than an administrative inconvenience and a chance for reinvention. The only lemonade these scorned women will be making is for the divorce party. Leaver’s Lullaby, sung by Ashley also casts the woman as the one who’s realised ‘there’d be no such thing as leaving / if just lovin somebody was enough’, although the tone here is more bittersweet than celebratory.

On Cheyenne and Sugar Daddy women have all the power in their relationships – and the Annies celebrate and admire these wild women. There’s no bitchiness or judgement here – just compassion and understanding. The idea of empathy is continued on Milkman where the narrator struggles to connect with her mother, who lives a sheltered life of traditional domesticity. The song imagines a life of freedom and fun for Mama, one that would help them to build a bridge of understanding. Put yourself in another woman’s shoes and maybe you start to see things differently. The strain of family relationships is also explored in Commissary, with Angaleena on lead vocal, where a young man has ended up behind bars and those left behind are struggling to cope.

Despite the darkness, faith in the future (and in marriage too) is restored by the end of the record. Title track Interstate Gospel is a humorous celebration of faith, suggesting that ‘if you can’t stand the heat / turn the prayer conditioner up’ (the lyric writing on this album is just pure genius). On This Too Shall Pass a happy marriage becomes possible, if you accept your own failings and allow time to heal. It’s the only song on the album with no writing contribution from Miranda Lambert, make of that what you will. Finishing on a song of understanding and grace like this is a testament to the romantic heart hiding in the weary sadness of these songs.

On the day of the album release my sister, my friend and hundreds of people on the internet all shared their joy and appreciation with me about just how fucking good these songs are. Every single song is a country classic worth celebrating.

So tell all your friends. Spread the good word. Interstate Gospel will save your soul.


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