Image courtesy of Angaleena Presley’s website.
By Trevor Christian
Angaleena Presley, the least known of the country supergroup Pistol Annies, could be well on her way to stardom herself.
Thanks to Presley’s amazing work with Pistol Annies — see “Lemon Drop” for one she penned herself — and the four rewarding singles she released leading up to her debut album, “American Middle Class,” earned a place as one of the most anticipated albums of the year among a certain type of country fan. Yet, upon getting a hold of it, most will find that her earthy tone and relatable lyrics make it feel like she’s been around for a long time already.
Presley’s best quality is her ability to appeal to critical listeners while retaining a chance to get some plays on country radio. A number of her songs sound more like a part of a Pistol Annies record than either Miranda Lambert’s or Ashley Monroe’s solo projects do and that could help make her more recognizable. Though Presley lacks Lambert’s star personality and celebrity husband, the beats in some of her more uptempo singles have more airplay potential than Monroe’s more minimal, traditional songs.
But Presley sacrificed no measure of honesty or intelligence to make it big. When lines or melodies fall short, it’s not because she’s trying to sound commercial. “All I Ever Wanted” presents a complicated relationship with religion, but contains a speaking part from a woman from Presley’s hometown. She’s clearly not much for public speaking, though her story almost makes up for it. Presley’s father, a coal miner, makes more sense as a speaker on the title track, though the album’s best chance for popularity would lie in that song if he were removed in a radio edit.
Presley also suffers from her long career singing harmony. In otherwise brilliant tracks, it’s an unneeded background singer stealing the show. Early parts of the poignant and tragically true “Pain Pills” serve as a prime example. Even if it’s a bit overproduced, it’s still powerful enough to emerge as a standout.
Luckily, there are few other missteps in what is truly an above average album that occasionally shows hints of being exceptional. “Knocked Up” is a Pistol Annies sound-alike that works just as well with a single lead singer. With its witty lyrics and catchy refrain, “Knocked Up” could get big. “Ain’t No Man,” the lead track, is a story told in contradictory metaphors, most of which are original and many of which are rewarding.
“Better Off Red,” which comes across as the most personal track, serves as a solid explanation for the album. In it, the character speculates that she may have been better living a traditional life in her hometown after having decided to leave and make something of herself.
Presley certainly made something of herself these past few years, but she’s wise to keep looking back. Home is where her best material comes from.