Yesterday I published a fake news type piece where I poked fun at Kelsea Ballerini’s immature pop music. Angaleena Presley however is the antithesis of everything that Kelsea Ballerini is. Angaleena Presley does not get radio play. She doesn’t have 3 number 1 hits, or even 1. Her music is mature and honest and damn sure isn’t Disney glitter pop. Her music is smart, it’s vulnerable and at times it can get pretty gritty. As a member of the group the Pistol Annies, Presely is not alone in making really good country music. The two other members of that group Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe have in the last couple of years released some of the best albums in country music despite limited radio play in the case of Miranda and practically no radio play in the case of Ashley Monroe. I had always planned to review this album when I had learned that it would be released in April but what really peaked me interest was the collaboration that had everyone talking with Yeowolf who is a country rapper.
The song is called “Country” and it is one of the many songs in the last few years that has criticized the direction of mainstream country music. Her and Yeowolf aren’t really even talking about the sound of the music but the substance. The music that is generic and dishonest. In Yeowolf’s part of the song he raps about how corporate radio has become and how there’s no more Hank or Johnny Cash on the radio. It’s all just country posers on the radio. He even drops Sturgill Simpson’s name saying “Thank God for Sturgill Simpson.” Although I like the idea for the country criticism song, the delivery is frankly unpleasant. It’s not a song that I would honestly want to hear again because it is too grungy and loud. It’s almost a mixture of punk rock and garage country which isn’t something I enjoy.
Where the album really shines are on songs that are personal to Presley like “Dreams Don’t Come True” and “Wrangled.” The former is about what Presley had expected when she moved to Nashville to chase her dream of being a country artist. She had expected to get a record deal and drive a fancy car. She would make hit records and eventually get hooked on drugs. In reality however she got pregnant and never became a big star. The message that she tries to get across is that not only do dreams not come true but in the process they break your heart and hurt you. The title track is about Presley feeling like she is physically constrained and trapped being a housewife. She needs to get back to being herself where she can be free.
The theme of personal introspective songs continues with “Outlaw” and “Mama I Tried.” On “Outlaw” she describes how she wants to fit in and be like everyone else but she can’t. People assume that she is simply brave and tough but everything she has ever done has been for desperation. “Mama I Tried” is a rock song that talks about how her mother wanted her to make it big so that she could buy her fancy jewelry and clothes. She tried to make it big and came close but she fell short and will never make it now that age has passed her by.
A track like “High School” does a really good job of delving into the stresses and problems that both girls and boys face. The first part of the song talks about a girl who gets pregnant in high school and is ostracized for it. She tries to hide the pregnancy but she is already starting to show. She is afraid girls will tease her and boys won’t want to date the mother to be. The story then changes perspectives to talk about the boy whose life is all about throwing a ball and trying to be like his father. When he gets upset (being a boy) he’s not supposed to cry or show emotion so he takes pills in order to feel better.
Even though I like the album more than I dislike it I find it hard to get past the production on too many songs. Earlier I had mentioned my problems with “Country” and they are also present and songs like “Good Girl Down” and “Motel Bible.” There is simply to much being done to Presley’s voice and it makes it difficult for me to enjoy even if I find the lyrics to be strong. I can appreciate the honesty and quality of the lyrics of this album but it can’t be one of the best albums of the year for me if half the album is difficult to listen to.
Grade: B- 7/10
Best Songs: Wrangled, Dreams Don’t Come True