It’s nearly impossible to talk about Pistol Annies without employing diminutive descriptors like “spunky,” “sassy,” “plucky,” and other such coded feminine adjectives. And it’s true that the three women of Pistol Annies embrace the feminine on their debut, Hell On Heels, singing of domestic frustration (“Housewife’s Prayer,” “The Hunter’s Wife”), womanly virtue (“Beige”), and their favorite subject, bad-girl rebellion, which inspires three raucous standout tracks, “Hell On Heels,” “Takin’ Pills,” and “Bad Example.” But dwelling on the trio’s gender means overlooking the real merit of Pistol Annies, which is the skilled, lively interplay between the songwriting and vocal talents of Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley, and Miranda Lambert.
Monroe’s classic Tennessee country, Presley’s twangy Kentucky bluegrass, and Lambert’s rebellious Texas honky-tonk combine into a colorful portrait of a modern Southern woman who’s vivacious, independent, and vulnerable in equal measure. In terms of spirit and songwriting, Pistol Annies slot in nicely alongside touchstones like Dolly Parton, The Judds, and Dixie Chicks, though Lambert, Monroe, and Presley have a youthful tendency to sacrifice sincerity in favor of cleverness. At a lean 30 minutes, Hell On Heels is too slight to deliver completely on the trio’s promise, but the sense of fun and sisterly affection that pervades the album makes it a winning opening salvo from an intriguing new group.