Along with time in Nashville as a behind-the-scenes songwriter, Angaleena Presley is known as one of the Pistol Annies with bad-girl superstar Miranda Lambert and nice-girl crooner Ashley Monroe. The 2014 release of Presley's solo debut, American Middle Class, and intimate gigs such as Friday's Ardmore Music Hall showcase should shift the factors of recognition.
It's not as though she lacks country credibility. Presley lays claim to being a coal-miner's daughter from Beauty, Ky., and a descendent of the McCoys (of Hatfields feud fame). Before heading into her fragile ballad "Better Off Red," with its lingering imagery of "blades of bluegrass leaving scars on my neck," she said she was "born a redneck" and was homesick for her pop. An encore rendition of her Pistol Annies' hillbilly-ish "Lemon Drop" and its "sucking on the bitter to get the sweet part" refrain proved why she's country royalty.
Country or not, what Presley did was present a relief map of her life, a prickly singer-songwriter's tale of hard personal truths. "And the devil doesn't like the truth," she said introducing the quietly hiccuping "All I Ever Wanted" with its tale of good times in the face of homespun religion ("only thing I ever really took in vain was a Sunday drive in the restful rain").
Unassuming in jeans, black sweater and dark lipstick, Presley, with her low warbling purr - a cocky, blowsy, breath of a voice - presented an exquisite counterpoint to the jazzy vibrato guitar of "Fastest Girl in Town." The track showed how "being the fastest girl comes with its setbacks" before she cruised into the slowly honky-tonking "Life of the Party" ("last night's face on your pillowcase / last call's fool laying next to you"), and then the banjo-plucked "Knocked Up." Charmingly self-deprecating, Presley claimed, "That's how I met my ex-husband."
The picture was complete.
"What's a girl to do?" she pondered before the swaying country soul of "Blessing and a Curse" in which she spat in wriggly voice "It ain't getting better, it's getting worse" - with a shrug rather than a desperate shudder.
Presley wasn't portraying victimhood or grand survival but instead a hard-won judiciousness - a prudence carried through to the rangy, Eagles-ish "Workin' Man Blues," the blustery "American Middle Class," and the phase-shifting, gospel-riffing "Pain Pills."