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Pistol Annies – “Takin’ Pills”

Songwriters:  Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley

The new Pistol Annies single and video release serves up a tasty helping of swaggering country fun, along with a lyrical account of a girl group’s life on the road, and a streak of self-deprecating wit to boot.

They’re “not trying to get rich;” they’re “just trying to get by… playing for tips on a Saturday night.”  The witty, lightly catchy chorus sums up the nitty-gritty ins and outs of traveling with the band – “We owe four hundred dollars to the boys in the band/ Gas light’s blinkin’ on a broke-down van/ Livin’ on truck stop burgers and fries/ Crossin’ our fingers for a vacancy sign….”

Sly, playful grins shine through each Annie’s performance as they rotate lead vocals, introducing one another by home state and bad habit of choice.  There’s one from Tennessee who “likes to pop her pain pills for every little ache” (“Hippie Annie” Monroe), one from Kentucky who “ain’t gonna smile ’til she lights up her lucky” (“Holler Annie” Presley) and a “rootin’ tootin’ pistol from the Lone Star State” who “mixes up a double at the break of every day” (“Lone Star Annie” Lambert).  The winning title hook finds the girls musing “Who in the hell is gonna pay these bills?  One’s drinkin’, one’s smokin’, one’s takin’ pills.”

The roadhouse country-rock arrangement is no less jaunty and fun than the Annies’ inspired performances as they poke good-natured fun at their own images.  It’s refreshing indeed to hear a single characterized by such color and personality - possessing a sense of humor along with a sense of self-awareness.  That makes “Takin’ Pills” both an instantly memorable and effortlessly likeable effort.  More, please.

PISTOL ANNIES’ SCORE:  9
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2012 in Single Reviews

 

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Album Review: Edens Edge – Edens Edge

Four qualities that I appreciate in contemporary country music: (1) distinct, colorful vocals, (2) beautiful, engaging melodies, (3) simple, unobtrusive country-flavored instrumentation, (4) darn good songwriting.  With that in mind, it certainly comes as no surprise that I would fall for the charming self-titled debut album from Arkansas trio Edens Edge, as it possesses all four of those qualities in spades.

Without a doubt, the band boasts a strong, effective, and gifted frontwoman in lead vocalist Hannah Blaylock.  On each song she pours her voice into, she displays a unique talent for delivering thoughtful, layered vocal interpretations that come across as being uniquely hers.  This is evident in the numerous personal touches she adds to the songs.  You can almost hear the sly grin on her face as she softly says “Splash!” at the end of “Skinny Dippin’.”  She gives a subtle growl as she spits out the biting line “Lie, lie, lie, like a politician” on the fiery current single “Too Good to Be True,” while bringing a genuine sense of desperation to the wistful “Feels So Real.”  The most beautiful moments come with the plaintive, melancholy trill she imbues into the chorus of “Last Supper,” along with the gorgeous, shimmering falsetto she turns in on the a cappella hymn “Christ Alone,” which closes the album.

That said, Blaylock does not by any means hog the spotlight, as band mates Dean Berner and Cherill Green are given ample opportunity to shine.  Their instrumental chops are prominently spotlighted on nearly every track, while Green’s high, lilting voice and Berner’s smooth, deep voice supply engaging contrast and interplay as they frame Blaylock’s lead vocals.  The sound of the record is surprisingly restrained for a Mark Bright-produced project.  While he does dial up the percussion a tad too much on “Who Am I Drinking Tonight,” and adds a loud and unnecessary bass line to “Cherry Pie,” the better part of the set leans on a simple, no-nonsense production style that goes down easily, spiced up by Berner and Green’s nimble dobro, banjo, and mandolin picking.

As enticing as the other ingredients may be, what really makes a good album is good songs, and Edens Edge claims some noteworthy standouts.  Hannah Blaylock shares writing credits on three of the album’s ten tracks; Dean Berner’s name appears on two.  The band mates complement their self-written cuts with some solid outside material, with one standout moment being their delightfully twangy cover of the Ashley Monroe/ Terry Clayton/ Brett James co-write, “Swingin’ Door,” which was a hit for Catherine Britt in Australia.  The lyric builds on an effective metaphor of a swinging door at a “gas-up rest stop” to illustrate a non-committal man who walks in and out of his woman’s life as he pleases.  Best of all is “Last Supper,” which builds on Christ’s final passover with his apostles as a metaphor for a relationship nearing its end.  The couplet of “You break the break and break my heart/ You raise the glass as we fall apart” is heartrending.

Considerably less satisfying is “Who Am I Drinking Tonight,” which has a lively beat and melody, but that leans on the hackneyed name-dropping gimmick which feels like it should be beneath the group.  Likewise, we find that the brash, hard-drinking bad girl persona of Gretchen Wilson (who is briefly referenced in the lyric) is a hat that Hannah Blaylock can’t quite wear convincingly.  While “Liar” turns in a solid spin on a storyline that has been used a few times before, the chorus (“I’m a liar, I’m a liar/ The biggest liar in the world/ ‘Cause I’ll be cryin’, I’ll be cryin’/ Like I’ve never cried before”) feels somewhat hollow, while the nostalgia-themed “Cherry Pie” could benefit from a more clearly defined narrative.  That said, the vocals, production, and melody are generally able to elevate the record even when the songwriting falls short.

As a whole, the project is given just enough polish to be mainstream-friendly without veering off into the uninspired, radio-pandering blandness that far too many of the group’s radio peers have stooped to.  Most importantly, Edens Edge respectfully treats the music as an art form instead of merely a commercial product for mass consumption.  By all rights, this is an impressive debut album, and one that heightens interest in the growth that the trio’s future projects may bring.

EDENS EDGE’S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

Top Tracks:  “Swingin’ Door,” “Last Supper,” “Feels So Real”

Buy:  Edens Edge

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2012 in Album Reviews, Reviews

 

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Album Review: Miranda Lambert – Four the Record

There’s a reason why Miranda Lambert is one of the most consistently interesting and critically acclaimed artists in mainstream country music.  She is not afraid to take risks.  Such risks continue on her aptly titled fourth release Four the Record, an effort characterized by creative experimentation, though the results are slightly less consistent than we would normally expect from Lambert.

Four the Record experiments with a diversity of sounds, styles, and influences.  How appropriate, then, that the album opens with “All Kinds of Kinds” – a song that celebrates diversity.  The lyrics paint colorful visual images of a wedding beneath a circus tent between an acrobat and a human cannonball, of a marriage between a pharmacist and a cross-dressing congressman, while the third verse taps into the narrators desire to explore her own unique identity.  Lambert goes in an unexpected direction with the standout track “Fine Tune,” which builds on a metaphor of an “engine of a heart that would not start ’til you showed up with a master-key.”  The track finds Lambert singing over a heavy beat backed with bluesy electric guitars, which ends up sounding pretty cool, though it could do with out the excessive vocal processing.  It only loosely qualifies as “country music,” and its sound will likely prove polarizing, but the off-beat styling makes it one of the album’s most unusual and interesting tracks. (Plus the coolest thing since hearing Faith Hill sing “centrifugal motion” has got to be Miranda singing “defibrillator”)

Lambert shares writing credits on half of the album’s tracks, but there are times when she falls shy of her usual songwriting standards.  Lead single “Baggage Claim,” co-written with Luke Laird and Natalie Hembry, draws on a previously unused metaphor, only to stretch the metaphor until it nearly breaks.  To her credit, however, Lambert draws on some strong sources of outside material, with perhaps the best case being her version of David Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s “Look at Miss Ohio.”  Brandi Carlile’s “Same Old You,” is a smart, self-realizing composition that shows traces of Loretta Lynn influence, and that wouldn’t sound out-of-place on Lambert fantastic Pistol Annies album.  On the other hand, her co-write with fellow Annie Angaleena Presley is surprisingly one-dimensional, and almost sounds like a song that just wasn’t quite good enough to make it onto the Pistol Annies album.

Perhaps the album’s most disappointing track is “Better In the Long Run” – the obligatory duet with hubby Blake Shelton, which suffers from an over-the-top performance on Shelton’s part, as well as an extremely boring central hook.  It sounds like something that songwriter Ashley Monroe must have written on an off-day.  The results are quite disheartening, considering the inherently lofty potential of a duet between vocalists of Shelton and Lambert’s caliber (which their past collaborations often came much closer to fulfilling).

Production choices are generally beneficial, with a few exceptions.  Lead single “Baggage Claim” boats infectious acoustic strumming and hand claps, which serve to elevate its rather clunky lyrics.  The bitter “Mama’s Broken Heart” is a stronger lyric, but the chorus rocks out so hard that you’ll be diving for the knob to lower the volume, though the lightly percussive intro works well.  Fortunately, there are plenty of moments in which strong lyrics meet good protection, thus making for some notable album highlights.  On Miranda’s self-written “Dear Diamond,” a light contemporary arrangement underscores her deeply emotional performance, which is bolstered by vocal harmonies of the ever-excellent Patty Loveless, while a light acoustic arrangement perfectly frames the bouncy melody of “Same Old You.”

Though the album has its share of missteps, its best and most interesting tracks are enough to reaffirm the fact that Lambert is not content to settle into a creative rut of half-hearted repetition.  It’s clear that her work continues to be characterized by restless creativity, and though Four the Record is not Miranda’s all-time best album, it’s more than interesting enough to have us waiting with bated breath to see what she’ll do with record number five.

MIRANDA’S SCORE:  7
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)

BUY IT ON AMAZON

 
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Posted by on November 15, 2011 in Album Reviews

 

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