Angaleena Presley has a lot on her mind. There is her proud Kentucky heritage to start with, followed by her embrace of country traditionalism but with an ear open for most any style that might compliment songs. Then there is the matter of her place in the country music mainstream.
The Martin County native got an initial taste of mainstream status as one-third of the hit trio Pistol Annies with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, a collaboration that topped the charts before Presley had released a record of her own.
But as she geared up for Friday’s indie release of her sophomore album, “Wrangled,” which she will celebrate with a performance Friday night at Willie’s Locally Known, the singer-songwriter found herself distanced from an industry consumed by the bro-country status of acts like Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean, and Florida Georgia Line. Her answer, in promoting the record, was to not pitch it to country radio at all.
Sometimes it’s just easier to express myself in a song than it is to go off on somebody.
“I already had a lot of frustrations,” said Presley, 40. “With Pistol Annies, I got to spend time on a luxurious tour bus, go around and play to huge audiences. Then as I moved on to my solo career, I realized I was going to have to go back and pay some dues. So a lot of this record was inspired by getting out there and being on the road and just building my career. I’m an older artist, but I still have these songs, and they need to be shared.
“But there was also a little bit of confusion and maybe a touch of anger. I remember being in my publisher’s office, and I was asking him about how he was pitching my songs and how they were doing out there. He told me, ‘Well, we love what you do. But what’s getting cut now is bro-country. It’s really hard for female songs to get cut.’ Basically, what he told me was he wasn’t even going to try to get my songs cut because he didn’t know what reaction people were going to give.”
She had a reaction, though. She took pen in hand and wrote a piece for “Wrangled” called “Country,” an exorcism of rage and rapping that sounds unlike anything conjured in or near Nashville.
“The climate had gotten so bad that female songs that were about female themes weren’t getting any attention,” Presley said. “So I went home that day and I wrote ‘Country.’ Sometimes it’s just easier to express myself in a song than it is to go off on somebody. I think it’s more powerful to make a statement with art than it is to shoot your mouth off.”
Presley co-wrote all 12 songs on “Wrangled,” but she enlisted an impressive of roster of collaborators. The leadoff song, “Dreams Don’t Come True,” re-teamed her with Lambert and Monroe, the dark but gospel-esque “Only Blood” was penned with fellow Kentuckian Chris Stapleton, and “Good Girl Down” was written with roots-rock and country pioneer Wanda Jackson. But perhaps the most bittersweet of the alliances was with master songwriter Guy Clark. The tune they composed, “Cheer Up Little Darling,” was one of the final works completed by the master Texan-turned-Tennessean songwriter before his death last year.
“We had a standing appointment every Wednesday for about two years to write, except for the Wednesdays I was on the road and when he was sick. Guy just unlocked something in my personality, because I’ve always been really, really honest in my music. But he was brilliant. Guy was better than any songwriter in town, and he knew it. Yet he owned that with such grace. I think that taught me how to be a little bit braver. The biggest thing I learned from him was how to be confident. He showed me it was OK to say how you feel and OK not to be OK with things that are not right.”
Kentucky will always in my blood. I am a product of my culture, which is something I will never outlive.
Regardless of what stylistic audience awaits Presley’s unapologetically non-radio-ready country, the influences of her native Kentucky guide her, be they the inspirations instilled by her coal-miner father or time spent in Lexington before her 2005 move to Nashville that were a little more, shall we say, uninhibited.
“I lived on Short Street, right behind Cheapside. I used to shoot bottle rockets at the sorority girls off the roof of my apartment into the courtyard there.
“Kentucky will always in my blood. I am a product of my culture, which is something I will never outlive. My work ethic is the way it is because of seeing how hard my mom and dad worked growing up. I think that has helped me write some complex songs, but in a way, in a language, that is simple and easy to understand.”