Miranda Lambert pal Angaleena Presley releases great, gritty country debut

Published October 15 2014
Updated October 20 2014

Beauty, brains and a broke-down pickup. A platinum blond with a gold-plated conscience. Mostly classy, sometimes trashy, never dumb. That's the Miranda Lambert aesthetic, and it's the hot trend in Nashville.

Sure Music Row will always adore its party stars, its Luke Bryans and Carrie Underwoods. But the buzziest country movement, headed by Grammy champs Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, is rebellious singer-songwriters with more on their minds than kicks 'n' keggers. Loretta Lynn is their patron saint: Look pretty and speak the truth.

Here's the newest face in that crowd: Angaleena Presley, who released solo debut American Middle Class last week, has been patiently waiting her turn — and using that time to put together a dazzling coming-out record. If her name sounds familiar, the pride of Beauty, Ky., is one-third of the Pistol Annies, a sorta-supergroup that also features Lambert and Ashley Monroe, both of whom have had more success than Presley so far.

The 38-year-old coal miner's daughter (no, seriously) gets her spotlight starting now. American Middle Class finds epic drama on a small-town street. Despite her "Holler Annie" role with Lambert and Monroe, Presley has no interest in sin-kissed songs here. Instead, she's "the girl who had to make it out of a nowhere town," and this is her how-to guide. Her town may be quiet, but she isn't. With husband-producer Jordan Powell by her side, she has a persistent knack for showmanship, small scenes but grand gestures.

The second track in, All I Ever Wanted — words and music by Presley, a DIY trend over 12 tracks — is a dialogue with the devil himself. As the song sprawls past the five-minute mark, a chummy spare shuffle starts adding gospel hosannas, handclaps, hand-to-God testimonies and trippy studio effects Yes indeed, something special is going on here, and the result is nothing less than mesmerizing.

Presley, who isn't as experimental as Lambert but has the same chutzpah, shows respect for her subjects. The recession-wrecked folks in Grocery Store aren't serenaded with a maudlin acoustic approach but a feisty guitar line; this isn't about despair but the simmering signs of a comeback. The darkly comic Dry County Blues ("There's a car full of pillbillies looking to score / From one of them trailer court front porch drug stores") buzzes like an electric fence; it's almost sexy in its desolation. Even the lowest of lowlifes in Pain Pills are given a rousing epilogue; everyone goes out with a bang.

Credit Presley for wanting to make a statement first, a hit record second. There aren't many obvious singles here, although the hooks are myriad. Drunk has a certain crossover gloss, and yet it doesn't celebrate the glories of booze like some Luke Bryan spring-break hit; instead, Presley's protagonist leaves her besotted man passed out on the couch. You'll still pump your fist in celebration; you'll still sing along. You just won't feel guilty in the morning. And that's a country-music trend we can all embrace.

Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife.