Pistol Annies: Annie Up (RCA)
This is the second album from the Miranda Lambert-lead trio, Pistol Annies.
The other two members are both accomplished but lesser known songwriters and performers Angeleena “Holler Annie” Presley and Ashley “Hippie Annie” Monroe while Lambert is referred to as “Lone Star” Annie.
When The Pistol Annies released their first album, Hell On Heels, a couple of years ago, a lot of people thought that it might be a one-off affair and a minor side project for Lambert.
She had just struck platinum with her solo album Four The Record (sic, as it was her fourth release) and later Lambert would win a crazy-huge cache of CMA awards.
Meanwhile, her reputation as a country star grew even more as a Nashville power couple with her marriage to Blake Shelton.
As good as The Pistol Annies debut was, this new album, Annie Up, is even better and finds the ladies fully integrated as a band where no one stands out ahead of the others.
This is a 12-track album where the trio writes all of their own material and it is far better than the standard Nashville fare with songs about mature, mutating and complex relationships.
The current hit single Hush Hush is a not-so tongue-in-cheek song about a family member who returns home from rehab so that all the other people in the household have to hide their own substance uses and abuses.
Hush Hush is also a great country rocker and one of the few up-tempo songs on Annie Up where the gals offer several moody but richly explored songs about lust on I Feel A Sin Comin’ On, stubborn relationships on Unhappily Married, depression on Blues, You’re A Buzzkill and dreams on Hope You’re My Happy Ending.
Annie Up—the title suggesting a gang about to mount up—is a tad too ballad-heavy but there is a lighter touch of alt-bluegrass on Damn Thing while the mid-tempo new traditionalist song Loved By A Working Man seems like the obvious next single.
This is an album that could have only been made by worldly women who have seen some life and the liner graphics re: a frontier moll gang motif of booze, poker and merry widow lingerie reinforces The Pistol Annies’ notion of Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty.
One of the best alt-country albums of the year.
Natalie Maines: Mother (Columbia)
When The Dixie Chicks first connected with Natalie Maines long before they became famous they knew she wasn’t a pure country musician.
In fact when the group changed their name from Dixie Chicken—an obscure reference to a Little Feat song—to The Dixie Chicks they were also showing their roots rock stripes.
I am not sure what is happening to The Dixie Chicks right now but Maines has released her first solo album, Mother, and it takes its title from a Pink Floyd song from The Wall, and lo and behold if Maines’ new CD liner photo doesn’t also have her passing in front of a massive wall.
On Mother, Maines is trying to prove her credentials as a song interpreter with a disc of mostly covers but her performances are hit and miss.
The stickered ‘feature’ tracks include a roots rock take of Eddie Vedder’s (Pearl Jam) Without You that features some cool slide guitar work from album co-producer Ben Harper,while the lesser known Dan Wilson gets covered with a mid-tempo version of Free Life about seizing the moment.
But both of these feature songs, as solid as they are, take a while to sink in and are not immediately likable and certainly not the sort of fare that any country radio station would touch.
There is a tad too much gravitas on some of these overly moody songs such as the regret-laden Vein In Vain while the take of Jeff Buckley’s Lover, You Should Have Come Over is just a little too heavy both musically and in its self recriminations.
However, Maines teams up with Gary Louris of The Jayhawks where they pen the song Come Crying To Me that has a tad more spark even if, again, the song takes a while to become anything approaching an ear worm.
There are a couple of rockers here with a punky rendition of Patty Griffin’s Silver Bell while the Ben Harper original, Trained, has an edge that will attract alt-roots rockers.
On Mother Natalie Maines is searching for a whole new audience but I am not sure she will connect with this album that really never seems to jump start.