Published Nov 01, 2018The Pistol Annies — Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley — who have previously recorded two of the smartest and most sophisticated albums on gender and sex, have outdone themselves with Interstate Gospel. The new album is more ambivalent, deeper and more bittersweet, casting a more melancholy hue. It is an album that tackles what they call "generations of shame," trying to tell the truth in a genre that often encourages lies, especially lies about the comforts of home.
It is an album about how terrible men are — how that terror has a genuine seductive quality, but also about how boring men can be, and the oppressive feelings brought on by both. It is an anthology of how many ways, both banal and excessive, hetero-normative pressures can be.
In exquisite harmonies and with lush guitars, they talk about what they believed at the altar, and what they no longer believe now that she was no longer "blinded by diamonds and driven by lust" (on "When I Was His Wife." The lullaby soft "Cheyenne" is a perfect story song about a woman who loves "country music and broken-in boots," who finds "plenty of pool table cowboys to hold her." It is a song that mentions Cheyenne's daddy and grandmother as roots for sadness, but there is a move where the narrator wants to be like Cheyenne, who treats love "as cold as the beer in her hand." It is a song so intense in feeling, and ambivalence, as brilliant as Sammi Smith's "Toast of 45" or Tammy Wynette's "Womanhood."
"Cheyenne" is not the only song that makes arguments about loneliness and autonomy. There are also moments where the claiming of women's sexual autonomy is genuinely audacious, using desire to break all social bonds — on the rollicking "Got My Name Changed Back," a rockabilly beat celebrates refusing a cheating man's name in favour of her own. On the blues grind of "Sugar Daddy," she claims to be a "red dirt queen of the palace" who states plainly that "there ain't a damn man in Dallas who wouldn't put a ring on her hand." I believe her, every sexy, shimmering inch of self-confidence is the sexiest claim of autonomy in years.
There are ballads that have the same confidence, but work somewhat between the pleasure of "Sugar Daddy," and the othering of something like "Cheyenne." "Milkman" is a tale of how restrictive life in a small town can be; the song that trades verses between the Annies, about the relationship between a free-wheeling daughter and a repressed mother. The daughter wants her mother to drink on a Sunday, make it past the water tower, pick wild flowers, and more importantly love the milkman in addition to loving her biological family. Cheating songs are often heartbreak songs; a cheating song where a child recognizes how oppressive loving daddy can be, is made even more shocking by how gently the argument is presented.
The last two Pistol Annies albums ranged from very good to brilliant; this album seems to be a breakthrough, a masterpiece that extends their already formidable gifts. (RCA Nashville)