"Hell on Heels" oozes dark sex appeal as the Pistol Annies harmonize over lines about "making the devil a deal" and taking the men in their lives for all they're worth. It's the opening title track from this fine debut from the group, comprised of country superstar Miranda Lambert, Angaleena Presley, and Ashley Monroe.
The album is chock full of great songwriting and the arrangements keep things nice and spare, courtesy of producer Frank Liddell (who also recorded Lambert's debut Kerosene). There are none of the usual the ballads baited for radio airplay, or super-produced foot-stompers that one might expect of Lambert, who's become one of country's most popular singers. Although Hell on Heels comes with her signature attitude, the record is truly a showcase for all three women who trade vocals and serious songwriting talent.
Hell on Heels may start off full of attitude, but there's also plenty of charm and humor. Check out the second track, "Lemon Drop," where the sour-until-it's-sweet candy becomes a metaphor for life. The twangy arrangements couldn't be better and Presley, who has lead vocals on this track, clearly holds her own.
As through much of the record, the songs are stocked with characters struggling with debt and living from paycheck to paycheck. Lyrics like "I got thrift store curtains in the windows of my home / I'm payin' for a house that the landlord owns" are timely, amusing, and sad.
A prime example is "Takin' Pills," a strangely rocking number (it sounds like they snagged Robbie Robertson for lead guitar) about hard-living women stranded with piles of bills and various chemical dependencies. Beyond that, the subject matter of the song is less than clear, although a line about "owing $400 to the boys in the band" makes me think that there's a true story there somewhere.
Trailer Park Country
We remain in trailer park territory in "Bad Example" and, obviously, "Trailer for Rent." The former is about a woman happy to be "livin' from a tip jar week to week" and the latter about a woman fed up with her no-good husband after "ten years, ten thousand beers."
While very different stylistically, "Housewife's Prayer" and "Hunter's Wife" share the album's penchant for portraying women who are at the end of their wits. In the amusing "Hunter's Wife" it's a woman irked at being married to a man who "spends more time in them woods / Than he spends in this house."
But in "Housewife's Prayer," it goes a little deeper and darker than that. "I've been thinking about setting my house on fire," Presley sings. "Can't see a way out of the mess I'm in." This is a woman in need of a "Lemon Drop."
The albums ends with "Family Feud," a number that Lambert's husband Blake Shelton helped write, fresh off his own success with Red River Blue. A driving beat sets the stage for its story of a family fighting over a dead relative's possessions.
Hell on Heels is hardly a vanity project for Miranda Lambert. It's a great record that rivals even her best solo work. Let's hope it's not just a one-off for the trio.
Track listing for Hell on Heels
1. "Hell on Heels"
2. "Lemon Drop"
4. "Bad Example"
5. "Housewife's Prayer"
6. "Takin' Pills"
7. "Boys From the South"
8. "The Hunter's Wife"
9. "Trailer For Rent"
10. "Family Feud"
Best Songs on Hell on Heels
- "Hell on Heels"
- "Lemon Drop"
- "Bad Example"