Pistol Annies ‘Hell of a Holiday’ in the Round Review

The Pistol Annies’ new Christmas album ‘Hell of a Holiday’ was released on Friday and the Belles and Gals team have got together to write an ‘in the round’ review, where several team members get together and write about a particular song that is close to their heart. Here’s our look at ‘Hell of a Holiday’!

Hell Of a Holiday (Lesley Hastings):

My choice is “Hell Of A Holiday” , the album’s title track and also its opener, one of the trio’s ten original writes on this collection. And wow does it kick things off in great style!
The energetic, uptempo song is full of the fun we have come to associate with the Annies, including the advice that “Santa better get his butt in gear ” ! But it’s not just Christmas that gets called out here, the track is a celebration of the entire holiday season which in the US incorporates Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year… possibly one reason for what some may consider to be an early release date for a “Christmas” album. Indeed, from the very start (which is actually the song’s catchy chorus) we hear how decorations are already underway “And it’s only November 1” and there’s then references to all the afore-mentioned festivities over the coming few months, with folk “Carving the pumpkins, hanging the lights, stuffing the turkey, pouring the wine, already singing Auld Lang Syne” .
Its accompaniment is a cacophony of instrumentation, including great percussion and steel, and I particularly love wonderful saxophone solo giving it a country/jazz crossover feel. And of course, although each of the Annies are great vocalists in their own right their harmonies are always a highlight of their music and it’s great to hear them blending so seamlessly throughout this opener.
A hell of a way to get your toes tapping and put a smile on your face, even if like me you’re not as massive fan of the holiday season… and it even inspired me to buy a pumpkin all ready for carving today!

Leaning on Jesus (Gareth Williams):

It wouldn’t be a Pistol Annies album without a little bit of gospel – though the surprise here, for a Christmas album, is perhaps that ‘Leanin’ on Jesus’ contains no references to the most wonderful time of the year. Instead, it offers a diversion into the purely devotional, avoiding any mention of snow, sleighs, or Santa Claus. The quiet whispers of people beneath the slowly rising instrumentation, at the song’s beginning, could be taken for the hushed chatter in the pews before the start of a church carol service. Beyond this, however, the focus is on the girls’ experience of being unburdened and unchained by their Saviour, in a general nod to Christian faith that has no particular seasonal affiliation to the rest of the album. Its ballad-like piano and simple drumbeat, followed by some fabulous electric organ after the second verse, is more akin to your standard gospel track. Its final change of pace, into the quick-fingered playing of keys, up-tempo beats, and a flurry of hallelujahs, is more readily associated with their last album and its title track, ‘Interstate Gospel’, than the festive feel on the remainder of this record. Take nothing away though from the Pistol Annies. ‘Leanin’ on Jesus’ is still a track worth savouring, marked by their usual foray into poignancy, this time with a reflective nod to the person who, for some, Christmas is all about.

Harlan County Coal (Dave Jarman)

‘Harlan County Coal’ tells of how Christmas can be a tough time for a poor working family, with 47 dollars in the bank, 27 guests coming to dine, and the prospect of “Making decorations out of shotgun shells, making it up as we go/
Making something out of nothing so you better straighten up/or all you’re gonna get’s a chunk of Harlan County coal”. A gritty tale, the song name checks a mining area in Kentucky, famous for a bitter miners strike in 1973, and the subject of 1976 Academy Award winning documentary ‘Harlan County USA’. The songs’ spoken intro is followed by ghostly laughter from the trio, before the opening bass riff tells us we’re in for a rocker–and rock it does! Building with drums, keys, vocals, acoustic guitar then electric guitar, to the fast paced chorus lines with sweet harmonies, all the while with their characteristic hard-edged humour, “Now get up the holler, cut us down a tree/while I’m going through Mama’s old recipes/if you get too drunk, you’re gonna deal with me” before ending with a fine guitar instrumental, chorus repeat and bass outro. ‘White Christmas’ move over!

If We Make it Through December (Nick Cantwell)

Country albums are traditionally known as featuring a cover or two, although in most cases, these might be classic Christmas songs such as ‘Santa Baby’ or ‘Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)’. The Annies have gone down a slightly different route, with a cover of the 1974 Merle Haggard classic ‘If We Make it Through December’. The song speaks about the difficulty a father has of providing for his ‘daddy’s girl‘ at Christmas.

Christmas is a time of joy, but this song reflects on the fact that it can be one of the most difficult times of the year for many, with loneliness and desperation affecting the mental health of many. This is reflected in lyrics such as ‘No, I don’t mean to hate December, It’s meant to be a happy time of year, And my little girl can’t understand, Why Daddy can’t afford no Christmas gift‘. Although this song was first released more than four decades ago, it’s every bit as relevant today as it was then.

The slide guitar at the opening of the track sets the mood for the track perfectly. It’s a slowed down version of Merle Haggard’s classic, with lamenting backing vocals and the emotive lead vocals of Miranda Lambert all contributing to an incredible cover.




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