If someone asks Angaleena Presley about coming from Beauty, it might not exactly be a pickup line. The singer-songwriter — also a member of the Pistol Annies — says she actually does come from Beauty: a small town in the eastern corner of Kentucky.
“I came from a tiny town in Kentucky called Beauty — which was right beside Lovely,” she says with a laugh. “My mamaw still lives there, and I have aunts and uncles that live there. It’s a special place in my heart.”
Though she grew up in the 1980s, she admits it was a very Waltons-ish experience. “My parents would just turn us loose, and our playground was the hills. We’d stay gone all day and find caves to explore, and then we’d come home and eat dinner. That just doesn’t happen anymore,” she reflects. “I think about my little boy, and there’s no way I would let him just go off. There’s lot of places to hide. I think that if you’re from there, you have this survival instinct that our parents put in us. It was a great place to grow up.”
The singer releases her solo project, American Middle Class, on Oct. 14. She produced the disc with her husband, Jordan Powell, and admitted to Billboard that doing so was a risk. “The first thing people ask you when you do a record in Nashville is who produced it. The name that you deliver often gives you credibility. When I say ‘me,’ people will say ‘Well, bless your heart. You made you a little record, didn’t you?’ I was so afraid that was how people were going to react, but I knew what I wanted it to sound like.”
She said working with Powell was a definite comfort zone. “He’s from Texas, and he hears things that I don’t — being from Kentucky, we have different heroes. He has a business and tour managing background. So he’s great at creating this environment where everybody feels safe and comfortable. We picked the musicians together, and went in there and had a big old time. There’s so much character. On one part, you can hear Keith Gattis take a big deep breath. We tried everything we could to take it out, and finally I said, ‘Leave it. Guitar players breathe.’ It just makes it more real.”
Realness is something that comes through each and every song on American Middle Class, and Presley said it turned out exactly like she planned it. Once you hear it, you will know her — regardless of whether you’ve ever met her or not.
“After you listen to this record, you’ll have just about everything but my Social Security number, which we bleeped out for safety reasons. But it really is like looking in my diary. Each song is like a chapter of a book. I modeled the record after Red Headed Stranger by Willie Nelson, which is my favorite record of all time because it all goes together. Every song is required to get the whole experience.”
One track that is a crucial part of the story is the wistful “Better Off Red,” which documents her emotions about leaving Eastern Kentucky. “I was the dreamer of the bunch. All I ever wanted to do was go to the big city. But as I explored the big city, and the more I learned and places I went, I started to realize that there’s not really a lot better than sitting on the porch breaking beans with my mom. There was such a rude awakening when I realized that the life that I had was awesome — and all I ever wanted to do was get away from it. Once you move away, and realize there’s a grocery store on every corner, you get soft and spoiled on the convenience of living in the city. Once you go away, you can’t go back.”
The title cut features cameos from Presley’s father, Jimmy — a former coal miner — as well as one of her biggest musical heroes, Patty Loveless. She tells The 615 that she still has to pinch herself when she reads the liner notes and sees Loveless’ name.
“I grew up loving her. We met through Miranda,” Presley says of her fellow Pistol Annies member Miranda Lambert. “They had toured together in Switzerland. She had came out to a Pistol Annies show in Atlanta, and we clicked instantly — like we were kindred spirits. I was at her house one weekend, cooking and singing, and I played her the rough of the record. She gravitated toward ‘American Middle Class.’ She said it was kind of a modern-day ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter.’ I asked her to sing on it, and she did. It’s my story of how I grew up — right at poverty’s door. We were going to fake it till we make it. My mom would cut the little Keds signs and hot-glue them to dollar store shoes so her daughter had Keds and she could hold her head up and be proud until you have something to be proud of. It works. I’m so proud my parents had that work ethic. They pushed me. They made me go to college, and then I got my degree and said, ‘Here, Mom. I’m going to Nashville.’ But I have all these stories to write about, and I definitely wouldn’t have as many to write about if they hadn’t forced me to grow up before I came here.”