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Angaleena Presley - American Middle Class

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 22 / 2 / 2015

Angaleena Presley - American Middle Class
Label: Slate Creek Records
Format: CD


Authentic and edgy country rock on excellent debut solo album from Kentucky-born singer-songwriter, Angaleena Presley

Despite the title of Angaleena Presley’s debut solo album, people from all walks of life and parts of the globe will find much to identify with it. Much like her work with the edgy country trio Pistol Annies (with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe) ‘American Middle Class’ is pure unashamed country albeit with more edge and less of the gloss than many associate with that genre. Presley has said that she has lived every minute on this album; that it’s the experience of her life from birth to now. As Presley is a real coal-miner’s daughter and a direct descendant of the McCoys, the family who once famously feuded with the Hatfields, there’s no reason to doubt her country credentials. It appears that Presley has, in fact, certainly experienced the hardships of those she songs about. Taking up the guitar at the age of 15 when she was working the tills at Wal-Mart, the struggle of not only trying to survive on a low wage but having to raise a child single-handedly while still holding down jobs was just another hurdle that the young Presley had to overcome. It seems that Presley has lived the life that many of country music’s biggest stars sing about. But Presley wasn’t one to let those around her hold her back and stifle her ambitions. Before heading to Nashville in 2000, Presley had attended Eastern Kentucky University which sharpened her literary talents which in turn no doubt played some part in her gaining a songwriting contract shortly after arriving in Nashville. As mentioned before, although Presley writes songs that are steeped in the trails and tribulations of the American middle class, there are many who have never set foot in America who will be able to identify with these songs. If we’ve been fortunate enough to avoid drug-fuelled neighbours then we’ve met someone who hasn’t, or we’ve passed through areas where it’s obvious there’s such a problem. The drinking that breaks up so many marriages is hardly confined to middle class America. You want to take a walk down a rural lane where I live in Scandinavia with me, and I’ll point out the houses where the bottle has caused immeasurable problems. These are universal problems that Presley highlights on her debut. If any other singer could deliver them with as much authenticity and conviction as Presley does is, however, debatable. Presley has had a hand writing in all of the dozen songs; that Matraca Berg and Lori McKenna are but two of the songwriters who share co-writes with Presley gives some indication of the respect that other country musicians obviously have for Presley. The album kicks off with ‘Ain’t No Man’. a bluesy, swampy take on country and one wonders how much of this song is autobiographical as it describes a woman who has toughened up through the years. ‘Grocery Store’ should be compulsory listening for those who think they hate the genre. The way Presley captures the thoughts of those standing in line or manning the tills, normal people who are daydreaming their lives away longing for something better, looking for that elusive break is brilliant. The listener can’t help but feel the longing and loss felt by those Presley is describing. The fact that the song floats along on a sweet melody that betrays the lyrics at times makes the song even more fascinating. Presley’s father, Jamie, opens the title track with a short, spoken word introduction about his introduction into coal mining before his daughter takes over the story. Over a gritty country backing Presley recounts how her father “can’t get his pension or social security/He worked 30 damn years in a coal mine feeding welfare families,” and how everything would have collapsed without that backbone of workers. ‘Dry County Blues’ is another slice of pure country pie with extra bite. Lines such as “There’s good Christian women locking their front doors/Praying their daughters don’t turn into meth whores” bring the reality of these towns scarily into sight, with “half the county’s laid off/Laid up and getting high” again you wouldn’t have to travel too far to meet those characters Presley brings to life in the song. ‘Pain Pills’ adds some scorching guitar to an up-tempo country stomp, the addition of male vocals adding extra bite to Presley’s country tones and pushing the song into cow-punk territory. It’s as catchy as the common cold and just as hard to shake off. ‘Knocked Up’, which was covered successfully by Heidi Newfield, is the nearest to traditional sing-a-long country you’ll find on the album, but maybe instead of the song being followed by ‘Better Off Red’ a ballad in which Presley reflects if she should have or will ever successfully fully leave her country life behind a more natural choice would have been ‘Drunk’ which, in the world of ‘American Middle Class’, recounts what happens more often than not to the girls who feature in ‘Knocked Up’. The closing pair of ballads, ‘Blessing and a Curse’ and ‘Surrender’, are two of the most immediate songs on the album. Beautiful melodies carry Presley’s words, and in the case of the latter the world-weariness in Presley’s voice is particularly affecting. It’s the perfect way to close the album and proof that Angaleena Presley is more, so much more than just another country singer. With a rather cool inlay and booklet depicting the singer/songwriter in various roles including waitress and traditional country singer, it’s like Presley is stating again that she has, in fact, filled all of these parts at some time in her life. It’s fitting then that the country singer image is the first you see when looking at the booklet. It’s the part she plays so well and the one that she should stay with. With excellent production from Presley and Jordan Powell, ‘American Middle Class’ is the strongest set of country songs to come this way for a long time.

Track Listing:-
1 Ain't No Man
2 All I Ever Wanted
3 Grocery Store
4 American Middle Class
5 Dry Country Blues
6 Pain Pills
7 Life of the Party
8 Knocked Up
9 Better Off Red
10 Drunk
11 Blessing and a Curse
12 Surrender

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