Much like Red Headed Stranger, the 1975 masterpiece by Willie Nelson, the 2014 solo debut of Pistol Annies’ Angaleena Presley, American Middle Class, is a concept album. But instead of telling the fictional story of a fugitive on the lam, Presley’s album details the true adventures of a Kentucky coal miner’s daughter who has gone on to become a successful Nashville songwriter.
“Holler Annie,” as she became known in the million-selling trio with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, introduced industry insiders to the songs on American Middle Class at a special event July 14th Nashville, but in spite of what the project’s song titles (“Drunk,” “Life of the Party” and “Pain Pills,” in particular) might suggest, this isn’t exactly a summer party record. Instead, it’s basically a collection of open-hearted journal entries, depicting a series of life-altering decisions and populated with the memories of a young girl whose upbringing was challenging, at times reckless, yet always rooted in home and family. Nowhere is that more evident than on “Knocked Up.” Lamenting her “belly full of baby and a shotgun wedding,” Presley takes it all in stride until just two tracks later, when the guitar-playing dude of her dreams is spending all his time getting “Drunk.” (In case you haven’t guessed, the couple has since divorced.)
Country legend Patty Loveless sings on the record’s title track, which is hardly unexpected. She is, after all, also the daughter of a coal miner (and distantly related to the Coal Miner’s Daughter, Loretta Lynn). And there’s a spoken-word cameo on “American Middle Class” from Angaleena’s dad. But perhaps the most unexpected moment on the album comes from a drug-addicted, dentally challenged neighbor of Presley’s. Having stopped by her apartment to borrow three dollars for bus fare, Presley put the woman to work reading a scripture in the middle of “All I Ever Wanted.” Poignantly, the neighbor has since passed away.
Before playing the disc’s title track, Presley recalled how her mom would use a hot glue gun to apply brand names to her children’s shoes, turning generic dollar-store sneakers into Keds.
“We beat poverty, but we were still right beside it,” she recalled. “It was sort of like this teeter-totter existence where the mentality was fake-it-’til-you-make-it. It’s just like a club. You’re either in it or you’re not.”
Presley co-produced the album with her husband, Jordan Powell, with whom she tied the knot in spring of 2012. American Middle Class is set for release October 14th via Slate Creek Records.