When Angaleena Presley sings about her hometown of Beauty, Kentucky, on American Middle Class, she’s part devoted daughter, part anthropologist. Presley, known to many as “Holler Annie,” one-third of the terrific, platinum-selling country trio the Pistol Annies (her costars are Miranda “Lonestar Annie” Lambert and Ashley “Hippie Annie” Monroe), here steps out on her own as a chronicler of blue-collar life. Full of lived-in stories of working as a checkout clerk, navigating unplanned pregnancy and struggling with prescription pill addiction, American Middle Class is a tumultuous love letter to her ravaged community — one that contains no small amount of heartache.
The album’s swaggering opener “Ain’t No Man” could be a paean to dangerous women and the hearts they break, except the lyrics deliver riddle after dark-tinged riddle. “She’s smooth as the gravel on a roadside creek bank, sweet as a flower on a 90-pound casket,” Presley sings. The images, kooky but thoroughly steeped in place, demonstrate Presley’s knack for nailing the complicated undercurrents of her experience.
The album ranges from introspective folk pop (“Grocery Store”) to gospel (“All I Ever Wanted”) but Presley shines when her powerhouse voice is backed by some powerhouse rock ‘n’ roll. “Pain Pills” comes like an adrenaline shot, blazing with real-life details (“The minister’s wife told a boldfaced lie to protect her daughter’s name, when half of the congregation was hooked on the very same thing”) without losing a shred of anthemic power. A bleak truth doesn’t preclude fun, Presley proves.