Review: Angaleena Presley in top form on solo CD

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Posted: Oct 13, 2014 4:46 PM
Review: Angaleena Presley in top form on solo CD

Angaleena Presley, "American Middle Class" (Slate Creek)

Angaleena Presley was little-known outside of Nashville when she formed the Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe. Her solo debut, "American Middle Class" — with its potent narratives about working-class Southerners — shows off the gutsy songwriting that made the others so eager to collaborate with her.

Like revered country songwriters Matraca Berg, Dolly Parton and Gretchen Peters, Presley uses her facility for wordplay to probe life's complexities rather than deliver catchy confections. She repeatedly downplays choruses in favor of stanzas packed with everyday truths.

A coal miner's daughter from Kentucky, she sings in a wholly Southern twang set to soulful country rock that's laid back rather than arena aggressive. But it's her lyrics that matter: Presley may be the first mainstream country artist to sing about the rural epidemic of methamphetamine and Oxycontin abuse, as she does in "Dry County Blues" and "Pain Pills." She deals in consequences instead of escapism, whether she's singing about liquor ("Drunk"), unmarried pregnancy ("Knocked Up") or defying the devil ("All I Ever Wanted").

Like Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, Presley believes life's gritty realities can be as entertaining as songs about partying on dirt roads. "American Middle Class" provides the proof.