When Miranda Lambert announced she was going to start a band, I had no idea what kind of fury she was releasing on country music. First, The Pistol Annies’ albums have been full of great songs. Then, Ashley Monroe drops a fantastic solo record. Angaleena Presley wrote “Fastest Girl In Town”. Now, Angaleena is all on her own, and it might be the best Pistol Annies member album yet. American Middle Class is solid songwriting through and through, and sounds timeless from cover to cover. Angaleena Presley has officially arrived.
When I popped this record in, I was less than impressed with the opener, “Ain’t No Man”. It wasn’t bad, it’s a nice little introduction to what Presley is all about, but it didn’t punch me in the gut. The album’s second song, “All I Ever Wanted”, however, features some really interesting lyrics that play off of the Ten Commandments and a fun little country melody. “Grocery Store” was when I realized that this album was going to be good. It is a simple song about a woman analyzing the people around her as she stands in line at the grocery store on an average Tuesday night. It is so simple and understated, yet so effective. It’s the observational songwriting that country music was built upon. I love it. “American Middle Class” features an introduction from her father, who is a retired Kentucky coal miner. The song looks at the struggles of the middle class through the eyes of a coal mining family, but really any middle class job could apply. American needs this song right now. The middle class is the ones that these crappy pop-country songs get marketed to, full of over-stimulation and materialism. This song (and album) looks the middle class family square in the eye and says “I get it”. That means so much more than some fluff song to kill time. “American Middle Class” should be on every middle class worker’s playlist. It is inspirational.
The album has plenty more real-life stories that can make you laugh, shake your head, or cry. “Pain Pills” is another one of my favorites, a stark and honest interpretation of the pain pill addictions that ravage the Kentucky area and surrounding Appalachian communities. The song sounds like an episode of Justified put to lyrics. Angaleena doesn’t hold back: the song is honest and depressing, yet the up-tempo rhythm and loud arrangement make it seem like an upbeat song. When compared to the up and down tendencies of drug-addled people, I think it is a perfect set-up. “Better Off Red” is a soft ballad with an absolutely killer melody. It ebbs and flows perfectly and really creates a beautiful melancholy atmosphere. I love the line "a blade of bluegrass left a scar on my neck, and it ain't quit hurtin' yet...". “Knocked Up” is a funny, yet honest and true look at an unexpected pregnancy. This song has a loose, hillbilly feel to it that traditionalist will go crazy for. The entire album is a clinic on modern country arrangements. There is a ton of steel guitar, fiddle, and banjo all over, but some effects and melodical devices that sound fresh and modern. A song like “Drunk” tells a story of a housewife who is fed up with her alcoholic husband could make some noise on country radio. “Blessing and A Curse” is a bluesy number that would fit right in a smoky honky-tonk bar. “Life Of The Party” is a slow ballad that directly contradicts the way that the party lifestyle is promoted on the radio. This song makes seem like a lonely, sad place to be. “Dry County Blues” and “Surrender” show off Angaleena’s impressive songwriting and vocal skills as well. There isn’t a bad song to be found on this album.
For some reason, this album hasn’t been getting the press and sales it deserves. With recent releases from Little Big Town, Florida-Georgia Line, and Lee Ann Womack, it seems American Middle Class has flown under the radar. That’s a shame, but it seems fitting that an album named after the most ignored social class would be forgotten. That isn’t happening here. American Middle Class is a strong contender for the Keep It Country Kids Album of the Year. It combines classic country sounds with songwriting that perfectly epitomizes the middle class citizens of America. Country music needs albums like this that take stand and tell the stories that people do not always want to hear. Like Brandy Clark and Kacey Musgraves, Angaleena’s debut album should put her straight to the upper echelon of female artist. American Middle Class is as good as they get.
Standout Tracks: "American Middle Class", "Grocery Store", "Better Off Red", "Pain Pills", "Knocked Up", "Drunk"
"American Middle Class"