Artist: Pistol Annies
Label: RCA Records Nashville Producers: Frank Liddell, Glenn Worf, Eric Masse
Miserabilism has become a nearly lost art in Nashville as country music has grown increasingly, buoyantly exurban. (You know you’re old if the ancient joke about playing a country record backward and getting your wife, dog and truck back makes a lick of sense.) But leave it to some of the genre’s leading ladies , whose reasons for woe include the disenfranchisement of female artists on the dial, to remember how fulfilling it is to write a song about how life sucks and you still don’t die. “Interstate Gospel,” the third album from country’s all-female supergroup — Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angalenna Presley — is pretty miserable, and pretty great; it’s spirit-lifting, seeing how low they can go.
The trio includes one legit superstar, Lambert, who seems even more liberated by the lack of pressure to produce a radio hit (although that definitely wasn’t the driving force of her last solo record, “The Weight of These Wings,” either). Her partners in crime have fewer commercial expectations to dodge but also thrive in this communal environment. You can tell “Interstate Gospel” is unconcerned with airplay not just because of its down-is-up approach to dawdling in dark territory, but because about half of the 15 tracks are waltzes. Now, that’s uncommercial.
Sometimes these three play depression for laughs, and sometimes they play it for depression. It’s a good mix: Just when you think they’re fetishizing pain for fun (a glorification that worked out well enough in the heyday of O.G. miserabilist Porter Wagoner), they hit you with something that feels lived-in enough to wipe the knowing-hepster smile off your face. It’s not always easy to tell from the first line which way a song will go: Does “I’ve picked a good day for a recreational Percocet” portend comedy or tragedy? (In this case, on “The Best Years of My Life,” it’s more the latter.)
The gallows humor peaks with a 6/8 ballad that has each woman take turns spouting country platitudes about their man — “He’s funny as hell, hot as July / He’s strong when I’m weak and strong when I cry” — followed by the kicker, “I said that, too, when I was his wife.” Or maybe the lightest-hearted highlight is “Got My Name Changed Back,” a legal-papers- celebrating rave-up with a backstory: “Well, I got me an ex that I adored / But he got along good with a couple road whores.” Lambert takes sole lead vocals here, as the tune skips choruses for screaming guitar and Dobro solos that answer her verses. There are one or two pure-swagger songs on every