Last night in Nashville’s CMA Theater, Miranda Lambert described Pistol Annies‘ work dynamic as a rolling slumber party. But — to turn a phrase that is, as Lambert herself might say, corny as hell — these women are wide awake.
The show was part of Lambert’s Artist-in-Residence turn at the Country Music Hall of Fame, and her sharing it with longtime friends and collaborators Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe demonstrated the country superstar’s dedication to her musical — and sisterly — community. The Pistol Annies formed partly because Lambert and Monroe both admired Presley’s songwriting, and that spirit of mutual delight permeated the performance. The three new songs offered during the show – a foretaste of the Annies’ third album, Interstate Gospel, due out November 2 — showed exactly what this combination of talents provides that country needs desperately: great jokes, clearheaded insight, and honesty about women’s experiences in an often tough world.
The Interstate Gospel teaser came in the middle of a set that pulled from the group’s two previous albums, focusing on its elastic harmonies and shared dedication to good old country fun. (Lambert broke out a washboard at one point, debuting what Presley called her “washboard abs,” though the instrument seemed more like a prop than a new focus for her.) Standing at the middle microphone with her six-month-old baby bump visible under a black T-shirt, Presley played the raconteur, charming with comic tales of struggle that Dolly Parton would have likely appreciated. Monroe mostly stayed quiet, except when she took the lead on one of her painfully poignant songs, and Lambert, the evening’s host, was happy to keep deflecting attention back on her bandmates and their empowering harmonies.
Those harmonies take an almost jazzy turn in the raucous “Got My Name Changed Back,” a song about happy divorce that the women insisted was definitely not about anyone in this band. (Among them, Lambert pointed out, they have “two ex-husbands, two husbands, and one single lady” – herself.) The upcoming album’s title track is another uptempo new number; Presley takes the lead on a song that shows some awareness of Maren Morris’s “My Church,” though in typical Annies fashion, its lyrics are more irreverent than earnest.
The third new song, “Best Years of My Life,” is the most devastating. Monroe leads on the song, which may have the best first line of any pop song released this year: “I picked a good day for a recreational Percocet.” The song unfolds as a lament from a woman trapped by her own broken dream of domesticity — a classic scenario that, in the Annies’ hands, has a subtle but unmistakable feminist bent. Its arrangement and the harmonies the three women execute, trading leads on the versus, hit that perfect sweet spot where the jazz standard meets the honky-tonk weeper. “Country music!” Lambert shouted after the Monroe hit her last mournful note. Music fans, regardless of genre preference, of any musical style will be happy to have the pure joy and cultivated melancholy that Pistol Annies brings back in their lives come November.