Country music made a huge crossover splash this year, as two of the genre’s brightest young stars, Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves, delivered debut LPs — Like a Rose and Same Trailer Different Park, respectively — to rave reviews this past March. Completing the triumvirate in early May was the Pistol Annies‘ Annie Up, the sophomore effort from the girl group trio that happens to also include the aforementioned Monroe. Her presence alone would make this an album of interest, but the Pistol Annies also features well-known country superstar Miranda Lambert as its crown jewel. The third wheel (for now), Angaleena Presley (no relation to Elvis), has yet to make a solo splash, but like Monroe and Musgraves, has some previous songwriting credits to her name and has been contributing to the Nashville scene for some time.
This is a telling pattern: critics have marveled at how these excellent Nashville debuts have seemingly emerged from nowhere this year, but upon closer inspection, these are accomplished musicians that have spent a considerable amount of time perfecting their craft. (You know, the kind of time everyone used to invest before short cuts began to emerge and the quality of mainstream music plummeted.) So how is Annie Up? Well, excellent. The songwriting is sharp, as you would expect from veterans of this caliber, and the music is delivered with the appropriate professional panache. If anything, it’s all played a little too straight, as if the ladies were hesitant to contribute material that could be perceived as weak. As a result, this “playing not to lose” approach perhaps keeps Annie Up from being an all-time classic, but that’s a very, very minor nitpick, one that could disappear from my assessment of the album with time. By all means give this one a go — even (or perhaps especially) if you don’t like country music.