A version of this column appears in Friday’s Weekend Look section of The Oklahoman. To read my CD review of “Hell on Heels,” click here.
Pistol Annies fire off their first album
BAM column: Just four months after they made their debut on the TV special “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women of Country,” the Pistol Annies — Tishomingo resident Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe — released this week their debut album, “Hell on Heels.”
Miranda Lambert introduced the Pistol Annies with an appropriate bang, premiering her all-girl trio during the nationally televised concert special “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women of Country.”
But for the Tishomingo resident and fellow Annies Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, the opening shot in their new musical sisterhood was fired at 2 a.m. two years ago.
“Just on a whim one night, Ashley and Miranda were having this kind of girls’ campout-writing weekend, and they had written a few songs. They weren’t really for Ashley, they weren’t really for Miranda, and they didn’t know what to do with them. So Ashley was like, ‘Well, hey, have you ever heard of Angaleena Presley?’ And Miranda was like, ‘No,’” Presley said with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
“The next thing you know, 2 o’clock in the morning, they’re calling me, and Ashley’s like, ‘Get up, get up, you have to send me and Miranda your record.’ And I was like, ‘Miranda who, Ashley?’ It’s like, ‘You’re crazy, I’m in the bed, I have my 2-year-old laying next to me, whatever.’ … And she was like, ‘You’d better get up and do it. It’s Miranda Lambert!’”
Presley, 34, obligingly rolled out of bed and emailed her unreleased record, and the red-hot country star was immediately impressed.
“When I heard a few of the songs Angaleena had written, I just felt we were kindred spirits; she is an amazing storyteller,” Lambert told me in an email interview earlier this summer. “We all started hanging out more in late 2009 and just wrote music together and sang together. Ashley is truly a wordsmith and has the voice of an angel. It felt natural, and I got very inspired musically, so we started singing for other friends and it was fun.
“The next natural progression was recording it, and now we can’t seem to stop.”
The “Girls’ Night Out” TV special — taped in Las Vegas on April 4, the day after Lambert bagged four Academy of Country Music awards — aired just four months ago, but the Pistol Annies earlier this week fired off their first album, “Hell on Heels.” The album shares its title with the Annies’ down-and-dirty first single, which sets the authentic, shoot-from-the-hip tone for their collaboration.
“I think our common theme is just honesty. I think that we all three kind of talk about what women are thinking but are afraid to say sometimes. And then we go on and we write songs about it. And I hope that all the girls out there will like ‘em, and even the boys maybe they can learn how to treat their women better if they listen to our record,” Presley said with a laugh.
“We’re all obviously country girls. We’re all from the eastern part of our states. It’s really not contrived at all; it’s not really forced. I don’t know, we just have this weird chemistry together.”
The Annies have forged a tight bond, complete with nicknames. And if they sound like the kind of monikers a trio of girlfriends might come up with after staying up too late talking and giggling together, that’s probably because they are. Texas native Lambert has been dubbed Lone Star Annie; laidback Tennessean Monroe is known as Hippie Annie; and Kentucky-born and bred coal miner’s daughter Presley goes by Holler Annie.
“Fun is definitely something that comes easy for us,” Presley said with a laugh. “It’s so crazy. It’s like we go to work and it’s so funny to call it work because we have such a good time together. We’re great friends, and somebody’s always laughing. If somebody’s not cryin’ — and then if we’re cryin’ we get it over it in like 10 minutes and everything’s fine. Yeah, we have a great time.”
Lambert’s husband, fellow country music star Blake Shelton, also has gotten in on the fun, earning the nickname Pistol Andy and helping the trio pen the scathing rebuke “Family Feud.”
“We do a lot of little girl weekends … and this one it just happened that Blake was there and he actually was doing the dishes — he had just made us some biscuits and gravy — and we were over there playing guitar and singing,” Presley said. “And he goes, ‘Girls, y’all have a clique and I’m not in it.’ And we were like, ‘Aw, Blake, it’s OK, you can be in it, just for once.’ So we handed him a guitar and he started playing this cool melody.”
Along with their love for writing songs and having fun, the Annies share a penchant for old-school country that wings through loud and clear on “Hell on Heels,” hich often calls to mind classic cuts from Loretta Lynn’s “Rated X” and “Fist City” to Tammy Wynette’s “D-I-V-O-R-C-E” and “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad.”
“We love, love all that classic country sound. I don’t think that we set out to do that, but I think that we got in the studio and that’s just kind of the vibe that when we played our songs for the band … that they picked up on. I think it was a really natural thing,” Presley said.
For the singer-songwriter, the enthusiastic fan response to the trio’s sets during Lambert’s shows gives her hope that the Pistol Annies will blast down the barriers that keep women from releasing daring music. Her debut solo album remains unreleased because “people are scared (expletive) of it if I do say so myself; it’s just a really edgy, raw record.”
“We’ve had a blast watching the fans go from question marks over their heads to now screaming and going crazy when we come out and singing along to our songs. It’s just been really cool to watch that evolution as people learn about us,” Presley said.
“Hopefully, groups like Pistol Annies are breaking down the doors for artists like me who are really honest and talk about things that need to be talked about.”