Music Review: Annie Up

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Music Review: Annie Up


      Well that was bad timing; Pistol Annies cancelled all their tour dates in June and now nobody knows if they’re still together. Dammit. Huh. A shame, regardless of the reasons behind it, though judging from the lyrics of Annie Up, the trio’s 2nd album, it could definitely have something to do with booze. Just saying.


     Annie Up’s a lean, wise and witty album that hugely satisfies, turning away deftly from cliché and easy resolution at every opportunity. Now, no surprise; Miranda Lambert’s obviously no slouch, and Ashley Monroe’s recent solo record Like A Rose matches Annie Up’s sass and bite track-for-track, and together with Angaleena Presley (no relation) the Annies are an embarrassment of talent.

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     Annie Up dissects country music’s tendency toward rose-tinted songwriting in favor of the raw, twist-in-the-wind mood of the grand dames of yesteryear, your Patsy Clines, your Tammy Wynettes. Only Presley’s solo composition “Loved By A Workin’ Man” which comes close at times to sounding like the copy for a vintage cigarette ad, gets a happy ending. The rest of the album’s gallery of weary women, part frenzied and part resigned, battle rotting resolve and dysfunctional families and dole out their hope only when absolutely necessary. Now I’m not saying this is 12 retreads of the same gloomy ballad, because there’s a fine vein of humor in the Annies’ songwriting. There’s the groaningly awkward family Christmas in “Hush Hush” (which put me weirdly in mind of the Drive-By Truckers’ excellent “Thanksgiving Filter,” and I did not expect that), the sniping couple of “Unhappily Married” with its loud-quiet-loud chorus like a spat exploding in the next room, and slinky opener “I Feel A Sin Coming On” is a slide-greased mea culpa to the drunken hookup. The arrangements are tight and pointed, shimmery when necessary, dressed up gorgeously in three-stack harmonies but leaving zero room for sentimentality. “Damn Thing” promises a world where “it's a damn shame that I can't change/I can't undo everything I'd like to/So I roll on and I shout it/Cause I can't do a damn thing about it,” but the jaunty ramble of the song hides the fatalism of the lyric.

     The single mother of “Trading One Heartbreak For Another” wonders if she made the right choice flirting with doom, and the wingwomen of “Don’t Talk About Him, Tina” urge their uneasy friend into a bar rebound; each time the hooks catch and the Annies’ harmonies are smooth as honey, but the questions stay unanswered. In the Annies’ world, a girl’s got a better bet on finding comfort in the bar at the bottom of a glass than in the Prince Charming driving a pickup. That awkward family Christmas goes down easier after a furtive joint, and you can almost smell the ashtrays and last-call sourness in the lonely drunkard’s plea of “Dear Sobriety.” Quiet, devastating “I Hope You’re The End Of My Story” closes the album up with a tapped-out prayer for mercy, an end to the lonely romantic migraine. In Annie Up’s best moments, a woman’s paralysis unfolds beautifully and for three minutes you understand something that you know when you own a bruised heart and hamstrung chances. I’d be sad to see them go, if they truly have broken up, but all I can hope is it’s temporary, and if necessary, that someone has a handy copy of the Big Book of AA to loan one or multiple members of the group. We’ll see. In the meantime, I recommend you kick off your work shoes, stretch your aching bones, pour a bourbon, and do with country music what was initially intended to be done with it; drink up.

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