The Pistol Annies may be a side project for three solo artists, but they’re still the best vocal group in country music today.
Their third album, Interstate Gospel, features material exclusively written by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley. Collectively, they form their own writing voice, similar to their solo work but also unique to the collaboration. The ladies have done a lot of living in the five years since their last project, and the themes are heady and substantive this time around. Failing relationships and missed opportunities are recurring subjects, and while heartbreak is nothing new for a country record, “When I Was His Wife” and “Best Years of My Life” show that there are still new things to be said about broken marriages and numbing the pain with “a recreational percocet.”
For all the bravado of “Got My Name Changed Back,” that upbeat kiss off is an anomaly this time around. Pistol Annies have always explored the shadiest parts of the family tree, but they reveal new layers of darkness on “Commissary,” as the one sister willing to turn in her drug-addled brother to the authorities notes, “I didn’t cry when everybody lied for you except for me…I’m glad those bars you’re behind are keeping you alive.” Another highlight is “Milkman,” on which a prodigal daughter laments that the straight and narrow path her mother took may have been the wrong one: “If I could be more like mama, maybe she wouldn’t judge me. Sometimes I think mama wants to be more like me.”
Interstate Gospel is evidence that sometimes the sum is even more precious than all of the individual parts, even when it’s three that already shine so brightly on their own.