By Helen Jerome
With their first Christmas record, the Pistol Annies are barely containing their festive joy - and who are we to complain?
Many artists seem content to knock out festive albums with a series of cookie-cutter cover versions, but that simply isn’t the style of gal pal supergroup the Pistol Annies. On their first Christmas record, the trio have rolled up their sleeves and shared 10 original tunes and three strikingly different covers, each giving their 360-degree view of all the ups and downs of the season.
If you’re going to conjure up some new holiday songs, then ‘Snow Globe’ and the title track provide a solid mission statement. On ‘Hell Of A Holiday’ they channel their inner Dolly Parton with the feel of a swinging 50s song. Propelled by handclaps, ‘Snow Globe’ foregrounds a sassy sax solo, which is immediately reminiscent of Clarence “Big Man” Clemons stepping up in Bruce Springsteen’s evergreen ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’.
The flipside is the deep, dark, delicious ‘Harlan County Coal’, which paints a picture of barely getting by, bemoaning your man failing to help despite umpteen visitors and finding himself in danger of getting a frankly unwanted present: “a chunk of Harlan County Coal”.
The mood switches back and forth across the album. Twinkly piano, Hawaiian guitar stylings and jokily tongue-in-cheek lyrics about having a crush on Santa feature on ‘Come On Christmas Time’. There’s also heaps of imagery about flying reindeer and leaving cookies on ‘Believing’, a Southern gospel feel on ‘Leanin’ On Jesus’, and a soft intimacy on ‘The Only Thing I Wanted’.
Swerving into different territory, the covers show the trio’s versatility, most notably on the Merle Haggard song, ‘If We Make it Through December’. The haunting church organ sound and lyrics about being laid off and facing up to hardship shine a light on “the coldest time of winter”. There’s a total absence of any softness or sentimentality here, and it really stands out from the other tracks.
‘Sleigh Ride’ sees them meet their perfect match in a joyful knees-up version of the classic, with funky drums and sax again. Concluding the album, ‘Auld Lang Syne’ has their perfect a capella harmonies winding around each other, and you wonder if this marks the moment Miranda, Ashley and Angaleena become the rightful heirs to Dolly, Emmylou and Linda’s original Trio.
Have they created new standards in the process? Time will tell. But they’re clearly having lots of fun, barely containing their joy – and who are we to complain.
Hell of a Holiday is out now via Sony. You can purchase the record from Holler's selected partners below: