Music

Pistol Annies’ New Album ‘Interstate Gospel’ Proves What Country Music Can Do For Women

Miller Mobley

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50% of marriages end in divorce; 50% of the country still live in small, dead-end towns sprinkled throughout the rural areas of America’s heartland; 50% of our country is made up of women, a group that historically earns anywhere from 50-80 cents on the dollar compared to men. On Interstate Gospel, Miranda Lambert and her supergroup crew of country divas — Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley — have written a collection of songs that target the experience of those underserved populations with countrypolitan sass. The divorced, the townies, and the women of the world deserve anthems of anger, renewal, and grace just as much as anyone on the planet — and might be the ones who need them more just to survive.

These are country anthems as laced with fiery rebellion as they are resigned coping mechanisms. Just take a listen to the album’s standout track, “Stop Drop And Roll One,” a slow and steady stoned paean to the endless, aimless nights out that are “burned out like a prom queen,” a meticulously inverted perspective that reveals the true colors behind that shiny, feminine trope. Later, Presley takes the lead on “Commissary” and “This Too Shall Pass,” two tender, silvery ballads about dealing with a loved one’s jail sentence and the dragging dog days in a relationship, giving airtime to two difficult scenarios that plenty of American women face, but have probably rarely heard represented in song.

Released this past Friday, which, coincidentally was Equal Pay Day — a resistance holiday that has become a flashpoint for the way women’s economic power is systematically crippled in our country based on gender and race — Interstate Gospel is more of the golden, overtly feminine and slyly feminist old world country that populated the first two Pistol Annies records Lambert, Monroe, and Presley put together. Since 2011, these three have been periodically joining forces in an attempt to make headway in a genre that has lately been recalcitrant to the voices of women. The album’s release date is another clever, somber reminder that women in country music — and the music industry at large — are routinely denied equal opportunities to express their experiences, pain, and triumphs the way men are.

Interstate Gospel functions, then, like a much-needed alternate reality, flipping the script on tired tales of divorce, nights out, and generational traumas like prison and small-minded, judgemental attitudes by hewing close to a female-first perspective that is sorely needed not just in music, but across the face of the planet. Pistol Annies features the combined strengths of three of the best songwriters currently working in country, ensuring that even when they tackle some of the most difficult and painful subjects a human being can face, each is illuminated with a pathos and patience that frequently feels groundbreaking.

Still, the politics of the albums aren’t explicit, but tucked into the deeply personal narratives it unfurls. “5 Acres Of Turnips” examines the twin forces of pride and shame that animate plenty of families in the south and beyond, and “Milkman” sees a daughter imagining a more adventurous past for her mother, wishing she could share more of her own life with her loyal, straight-edge mom, but prohibited by their lack of common ground. On album opener, “Interstate Prelude,” and its later companion, “Interstate Gospel,” the trio find redemption in radio gospel, weaving old Christian traditions into their current day hedonism without batting a thickly mascara’d eyelash.

Speaking of sinners, there are two ways for public figures to deal with the heartbreaks and trauma that are sure to befall them. One, keep that sh*t private, nurse the grief and recover with those closest to you, and only ever address the turmoil years later, once the healing is complete. Two: Put it all out there via whatever medium has granted them the blessing/curse of celebrity. On Interstate Gospel, this crew, have opted for the latter, with several songs tackling the enormous implications of celebrity divorce, an area where Lambert obviously has firsthand experience.

Songs like “Got My Name Changed Back” and “When I Was His Wife” share a female perspective on the experience of leaving a marriage, that, as common as it is, have rarely made their way into a song; they share a sentiment that is seldom told, of celebration at the reclamation of independence, or an ability to empathize with another woman caught in a toxic and all-too-familiar relationship cycle. These cuts are typified by Lambert’s wry, rebellious approach, trending toward a quicker tempo and sharper lyrics. But perhaps this group has been as successful as they have because each woman is well represented across every record.

For instance, when it’s Monroe’s turn to shine, like on “Best Years Of My Life” and “Leavers Lullabye,” the songs turn more blue, sweet and sad like her solo work often is, punctuated with flickers of the other two women, but carrying on in the footsteps of bluegrass greats like Alison Krauss and evoking a sense of ’70s melancholy only Monroe is really owning in the country space at the moment. And despite the clear moments where space is made for each woman’s respective style, the heart of a Pistol Annies project is that each artist brings her own flame to every track, adding light and heat to whatever tinder is there, building a roaring fire out of what would’ve been a slow burn.

Sometimes, survival isn’t just down to who is the fittest, but who can keep their friends the closest. Interstate Gospel proves that blood may be thicker than water, but, at least when it comes to these women, country music is thicker than either of the two combined.

Interstate Gospel is out now via Sony Music. Get it here.

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