Two years after super-trio Pistol Annies released their 2013 album Annie Up, country music radio consultant Keith Hill made the blunder heard throughout Nashville when he suggested playing fewer female artists on the radio.
“If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out,” Hill said, comparing female artists to the tomatoes in a salad and male artists to the lettuce.
The incident became known forever as Tomato-gate. The boorish statement was confirmation to female artists that they weren’t being treated equally. Since then, the state of women on country radio has remained bleak, while female artists continue to release some of the best work Nashville has to offer. And the old lie that “women don’t want to listen to women” continues to reverberate throughout Music Row.
If there’s any music act that disproved that notion it’s the Pistol Annies. The trio performed three sold out headlining shows in 2011 and their debut studio album Hell on Heels was certified gold went to No. 1 on the country charts. They also just make damn good country music. So when Miranda Lambert promised a new Pistol Annies album is on the way in 2018, it was a gift from above for country fans.
The Pistol Annies, made up of Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley (Lone Star Annie, Hippie Annie and Holler Annie, respectively) made their debut in 2011 on the Academy of Country Music’s Girls Night Out: Superstar Women of Country. Later that year, the Annies released Hell on Heels, a collection of traditionalist songs that found the women exploring rural desperation (“Housewife’s Prayer”), playing sly saboteurs on the title track and practicing hedonism on the irresistibly fun “Takin’ Pills.”
The Pistol Annies’ tales of vagabonds, pissed off housewives and down-and-out dreamers was a reprieve from the forced optimism of much of modern country radio.
The Annies’ released their sophomore album Annie Up in 2013 to critical acclaim. “Hush Hush,” a rollicking song about repression and family secrets became their first entry onto the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. Once again, the group represented a return to substance for country music. The album featured the trio singing about addiction (“Dear Sobriety”), domestic drama (“Unhappily Married”) and the highs and lows of day-to-day womanhood (“Girls Like Us”).
Since the Pistol Annies went on hiatus, all three women have continued to have solo success. Lambert’s solo career has risen to new heights. Her critically acclaimed 2016 double album The Weight of These Wings went platinum, even as country radio largely ignores its singles. In 2015, Monroe released her Grammy-nominated solo album The Blade. Last year, Presley released her stellar album Wrangled, a standout record in a year full of great releases.
Early last year the trio came together to record “Tulsa Time” for the Don Williams tribute album, Gentle Giants: The Songs of Don Williams. Last summer, the Annies reunited during Lambert’s tour stop in Arkansas.
Fans connected with the Pistol Annies because they sang their truth. Every song sounds like it was truly lived — if not by them, then by someone from their Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky homelands. At a time when female artists remain absent from country radio and the women in country songs are mere caricatures of people, it’s never been more clear that country radio needs new music from the Pistol Annies.