Album Review: Angaleena Presley – Wrangled

Jof Album Review, Headlines

It’s fitting that Wrangled begins with a gentle sigh. It feels like it needs to take a moment, before it throws itself recklessly into the sprawling beautiful mess of thoughts and emotions and ideas it’s got balled up inside of it. Like a country music cramming session; it’s got a hell of a lot to cover over the next twelve songs and it isn’t going to be pulling any punches along the way. Deep breath.

This is the record Angaleena Presley has always been threatening to make, it’s the moment the shit-talking-fag-smoking-potty-mouthed badass anti-country queen of Kentucky finally gets handed her crown, only to snap it up into little pieces and hand it back to all the misfits and freaks and geeks and outsiders. This is her Cady Heron at the Spring Fling moment. People are always going to talk about Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton bucking the system, but it’s difficult to remember the last time a country record gave less of a shit than this one.

Presley’s own career is a riches to rags back-to-front fairytale that begins with her joining the Pistol Annies as an almost complete unknown, playing stadiums and touring the country in a fifty foot tour bus, and ends with her “praying that the T-shirts and the records will sell” at the merch stall after a solo show in Georgia. If her first album, American Middle Class, told the story of her upbringing in Kentucky, then Wrangled picks up the story where the last one left off, from the moment she moved to Nashville to where she finds herself now. Album opener Dreams Don’t Come True is the closest we’ll get to a new Pistol Annies record this side of someday perhaps. Written by Presley with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, it features the other two Annies on backing vocals as Presley sings about all the chances she’s blown and the opportunities that never knocked – “I thought I’d change the world with three chords and the truth, I’d be like Elvis but with lipstick and boobs” she laments dryly, as Lambert and Monroe swoon and coo behind her. When they all come together to promise to “flip the bird to them whores in high school” it makes you ache for a full on reunion, such is the magnificence of their joined forces.

Presley is ever the reluctant outsider – “I don’t want to be an outlaw, I don’t want to be a renegade” she sings on Outlaw – the misfit who would happily fit in but wouldn’t be willing to change anything about herself in order to. She doesn’t know how to be anything other than herself and doesn’t understand why just being herself has landed her on the margins. A true country oddball, like Cowboy Jack Clement or Billy Joe Shaver, who’s never going to sit that comfortably with anything else that’s happening in country, no matter how hard she might try to – “Mama always said God broke the mould when he made me and I’ve spent my whole damn life trying to fit back in”. There’s no pinning Presley down and you get the feeling that that’s the way she likes it. Everything she does is contradictory. She can be prickly and angsty, straightforward and uncomfortably candid, at the same time as she’ll seem troubled and insecure and as if all she wants to do is run and hide from the world. Because if you scratch the surface, beneath every badass there’s a broken heart. It’s this honesty and vulnerability that makes Wrangled such a powerful record. Part memoir, part road map, it’s a defiant rejection of all the things women have been convinced they shouldn’t think or feel or say, wear or want to be. Full of sassy put downs and arch one liners. This is fourth wave feminism at its most glamorous and incendiary; push-up bras and vengeance. Only Blood, co-written with Chris Stapleton and featuring Morgane Stapleton on backing vocals, is a curiously contemporary take on a classic murder ballad, while High School is an inspired blend of sixties girl group pop and classic country, which sounds like Phil Spector producing Dixie Chicks. Presley backed up by swooning backing vocals, shoo-be-doos and handclaps, while she pithily spills the beans on all the pill popping jocks and pregnant prom queens.

On another level Wrangled is a country record all about country music, something which the genre has never been afraid to play around with. From It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels to John Deere John Cougar John 3:16, country music has always been self-referential, with its knowingness and its nods and winks, all those singers singing songs about songs, if it’s not raising its glass then it’s tipping its hat, but Wrangled takes that self-referentiality to a whole new level, revelling in its own intertextuality; a guitar lick borrowed from Merle Haggard here, an obscure reference to Dwight Yoakam there. Country is a song about country called Country. A bro-country bashing parody of male dominated contemporary country radio and the blinkered commercialism of a city that she seems to love and loathe simultaneously. It’s the sweet sound of Angaleena Presley venting and no one vents quite like Angaleena Presley. When Wanda Jackson pops her head around the door to co-write Good Girl Down, Presley seems to be reluctantly accepting that she’s never going to be fully appreciated or accepted in the “man’s world” of country music, but you know by now she isn’t about to go down without a fucking good fight. All the self-referencing makes for a peculiarly post-modern country record, like a giant work of metafiction that reveals itself as it unravels gradually over the course of the twelve songs, constantly blurring the lines between Presley’s own life and the small town stories she sees all around her.

Guy Clark’s is the ghost that Presley allows to haunt the record; from the heartbreakingly honest liner notes to the scratchy cassette recording of his voice that precedes Cheer Up Little Darling, the song Presley co-wrote with Clark, his presence and his absence, can be felt all over the album. Their weekly Wednesday songwriting appointments seem to have helped her reshape and hone her no bullshit take on classic country, as well as simply reaffirm Presley’s own personal brand of butter wouldn’t melt badassery and righteous indignation. Wrangled ends up being a more stylised and self assured record than American Middle Class was, an album that knows exactly what it is it wants to get across over its twelve songs and wants to hold you in its fist for the duration. It’s a remarkable achievement. From the Becky Fluke photograph on the sleeve to the shout outs to Shooter Jennings and Yelawolf’s guest appearance on Country, it seems like Angaleena Presley has finally found her people in amongst all the other misfits and outsiders of Music City, and Wrangled is her bold statement of solidarity; a beautifully thought out and sublimely curated set of songs that stands sceptically to the side of everything else that’s happening in country music at the moment. It’s an absolute work of art and the first truly great country record of 2017. Country music, you just got served.

  Track List
  1. Dreams Don’t Come True
  2. High School
  3. Only Blood
  4. Country
  5. Wrangled
  6. Bless My Heart
  7. Outlaw
  8. Mama I Tried
  9. Cheer Up Little Darling
  10. Groundswell
  11. Good Girl Down
  12. Motel Bible

Audio

Take a listen to my Rough Trade podcast with Angaleena, her album is also available to order on their website.


More Information

Birthday

1 September, 1976


Birthplace

Beauty, Kentucky



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About the Author

Jof

I'm a Buffy The Vampire Slayer watching Smash Hits reading militant feminist country music lover. Country music was the first music I ever fell in love with. When I was five years old all my heroes were cowboys or country singers. I grew up listening to Johnny Cash and `George Hamilton IV, Crystal Gayle and Marty Robbins. As I grew up I fell in love with other things, but I never forgot country music. My first love. And as I get older I find myself where I began all those years ago. Listening to George Hamilton IV and dreaming of being a country singer. We can still be friends if you don't like Waylon Jennings, but we'll never truly understand each other.