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Presley rises above (with) "American Middle Class"

By Dan MacIntosh, February 2015

Some in the mainstream country audience may only know Angaleena Presley as one of the two other singers in Miranda Lambert's side group, Pistol Annies. But to view Presley in only that limited light would be selling her severely short. For starters, Pistol Annies is a trio of extra strong female country music writers and by no means merely Lambert's side group. (Chances are good Lambert would gladly back that statement up, if asked). Ashley Monroe's recent 2013 solo album, "Like a Rose," was fantastic, and Presley's new one, "American Middle Class," is even better and one of the best of 2014.

Presley is so good because she's nearly a direct artistic descendant from the likes of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn (the latter even gets thanked in the credits) because of the absolute directness and honesty in her songwriting. She's the aural antidote to bro country. Her song "Drunk," which speaks of a romantic partner more in love with his alcohol than her, is a drinking song with actual consequences. Despite what Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line have told you in their shallow booze songs, you cannot drink all day and all night and not face dire consequences.

On David Letterman singing

"Grocery Store," for another prime example, reveals Presley's keen eye for detail, as well as an ability to extrapolate on the lives of the seemingly common people she runs into. "Knocked Up" speaks bluntly about unwanted pregnancies, while "Life Of The Party" tells about what bad can happen the day after all those Bryan and Florida Georgia Line inebriated throw-downs. Simply put, Presley is unafraid to tell the truth – the unvarnished truth.

Presley's album primarily features middle class American characters that are much like the very kinds of people she grew up around. This isn't ABC's "Nashville;" this is music about the majority of the country that doesn't get a whole lot of TV screen time.

"It's about as truthful as you can get, I guess," says Presley commenting on the album title. "My parents, I would probably put them in the working class. And I think one of their big goals in life was to somehow lift their kids up and propel them a little. We want our kids to have more than we have. So they just really worked their buts off to try to provide that. And I feel like it worked. We just sort of had that 'stage it till you make it' mentality."

"That's why I talk about my mom doing things like gluing Keds designer labels on my shoes and sowing them on my jeans. So, I guess her intention was for me to have a sort of a pride or those accolades that go with being maybe a little more well off than we actually were. That's just the way it was. And she wasn't the only mom doing it. A lot of the moms around there were doing it. A lot of the people I graduated with grew up and became doctors and lawyers, so I was just fortunate enough to be around just a really great community of hardworking men and women who wanted the best for their kids."

Presley's "community" was Beauty, Ky., and these hardworking parents included a father, Jimmy, a real coal miner, and mother Cathy, a school teacher. Just as some of her graduating class went on to college to become respected professionals, Presley graduated from Eastern Kentucky University where she studied psychology.

Having a mom put designer labels on non-designer clothing is a little like a modernization of Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors." The methodology may have been different, but it was still a mother's way of sowing love into every stitch of her daughter's clothing.

"I love that song," comments Presley, "I love Dolly Parton. She also has this song about bargain basement ("The Bargain Store). Dolly is a big, big inspiration for me. I love her songwriting and her strength as a woman and her ability to tell the truth. And my mom actually sang ‘Coat of Many Colors' to me when I was a little girl. So, that's always been at the back of my mind. And I do relate to that because in a way it's kind of the same thing, only in a different context. It's all about making due with what you have and if wearing Keds is what you need to do to succeed, then my mom figured out how to do it with what she had laying around the house."

Presley's mom was never a professional singer, however. "My mom is a singer," Presley explains. "She's a singer in the shower and in the kitchen. She had four sisters, and they all sang. They would sing these Scottish and Irish folk songs. Bluegrass songs. They're all about murder and suicide. And star-crossed lovers and spousal abuse. Just really dark songs. And my dad played guitar a little bit. So the combination, I guess, sparked an interest. My mom always loved music and always had records. And we'd always clean house to whatever records she was listening to at the time."

Although she came from a family of music lovers, Presley did not receive much encouragement to become a professional musician herself. "No, not at all," she says now. "They encouraged me with the opposite. My mom was determined... her thing was, 'I don't care what you do, but you have to get an education. After that, then you can decide'. So, she just sort of put her foot down and said that I was going to college, no matter what. She's a teacher, and where I'm from, there are just not a lot of opportunities. You really have to get an education to not be on welfare, really. I have to be honest about it. So, she demanded that I do that."

"And then after I graduated I was, like, 'Here's my diploma. See you later. I'm gone, moved to Nashville.' But I knew what I wanted to do when I was 18. But I'm glad that I waited because it was in collage that I really discovered so much music. I had all of that time to really just ingest so many different styles of music. You spend a lot of time in the dorm rooms sitting around listening to music, and I feel like I would not be the writer that I am if I hadn't had that time to discover all of those things."

Presley moved to Nashville in 2000, obtained a publishing deal in less then a year and then later had the good fortune to meet Monroe, who turned one Miranda Lambert onto Presley's music. And what began as a songwriting partnership, eventually evolved into the trio Pistol Annies that has resulted in two full-length albums to date.

In addition to Presley's solo and Pistol Annies music, Presley has had songwriting success. Lambert recorded "Fastest Girl In Town," which the two co-wrote. Ashton Shepherd and Heidi Newfield tracked songs with Presley having some of the writing credit.

Although none of this will show up on her transcripts, Presley learned how to be a songwriter while in college. With "American Middle Class," she's proves how she learned these lessons well. These pictures aren't always pretty, but they're never less than accurate.