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Angaleena Presley

American Middle Class – 2014 (Slate Creek)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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CDs by Angaleena Presley

Angaleena Presley is best known as being one-third of Pistol Annies, the very cool side group with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe. For Presley, the Annies (she is "Holler Annie") was her calling card to putting out this debut disc at 37, but the Annies needn't be thought of as a fall back plan for the Kentucky native.

What separates Presley apart is her very sharp songwriting. Presley brings story songs to the fore, but these aren't feel good, everything works out in the end stories though. She starts with a lot of visuals in "Ain't No Man" about a woman who's smooth as a gravel on a roadside creek bank/Sweet as a flower on a knotty pine casket." Or confronting the devil before he's ready to take her away in "All I Ever Wanted."

In "Grocery Store," Presley takes the simple act of "Standing in line at the grocery store" to wonder about the little girl in front of her in line or the check-out clerk who "looks like a football coach/Who just lost his way."

Presley grows topical in the title track describing the difficult life of working "30 damn years in a coal mine feeding welfare families," but still a member of "the hard working, God-loving members of/The American middle class."

Life is not particularly cheery in song after song, with titles like the bouncy "Knocked Up" (first recorded by Heidi Newfield in 2008), ""Drunk," "Pain Pills" with its martial-like drum beat and "Dry County Blues." These are tough tales, difficult songs of the American underclass, not the middle class.

Presley is obviously a keen observer of small town life folk, who are trying to get by one way or often the other.

Presley is more than a wordsmith as she brings life to the sad songs with her softer, twangy vocals and appropriate country instrumentation (pedal steel, acoustic guitar often can be heard) with no need to resort to big sounds to get her message across.

Pistol Annies may have shone the spotlight on Presley, but with music and songwriting as good as this, Presley, like Lambert and Monroe, staked ample claim to going her own way.