And just when you thought we were done talking about polarizing albums…
Anyway, Angaleena Presley’s latest solo album really seemed like it was going to be a great one. Hell, there was writing credits from Chris Stapleton and Guy Clark (!) on here, and there was even a feature from Yelawolf (which I’m sure didn’t excite most of you). Moreover, when talking about Angaleena herself, well hell, her debut album was solid all around, and I had no doubts this would be the same. As such, while April was an incredibly busy release day, I knew I wanted to eventually cover this album, if only because it looked too interesting not to.
Now, much like Brad Paisley and Charlie Worsham from last week, I’ve heard it all with this album from “it’s brilliant” to “she’s really trying to do the outlaw thing?”, and honestly, I’m a little frustrated by this record. It is a very good album from Angaleena, and certainly a strong follow-up to American Middle Class, but for some reason that I still can’t place my finger on, Wrangled just isn’t taking that next step for me despite my flaws being minimal.
But that doesn’t matter I can just back out. I love a good challenge, which is why this review is a bit late as well. For starters, while this album is very “outlaw” in terms of capturing the “do it yourself” vibe, I’d say it’s a little too laidback to really stick with me. The acoustic bedrock of “Bless My Heart” sounds a little off-putting when matched against the biting lyricism, and as much as I love having a little piece of Guy Clark live on in this record, I wish I could say I found the track “Cheer Up Little Darling” anything other than boring. A track like the more direct “Outlaw” follows the same pattern, and it’s here where the vocal production is even a little too constrained to really bring out the message.
Now, that’s not to say this album is boring as a whole, far from it. Again, it is very good, and we’ll be getting to why later. However, even the fun tracks like “Mama I Tried”, “Good Girl Down” and “Hotel Bible” are all more consistently fun, good moments rather than truly great unique tracks, and I think that’s reflected in the overall lyricism of all of them. Additionally, while I can understand the sentiment of a song like “High School”, it feels oddly out of place on the album thematically.
To be honest, some of my favorite tracks on the record are when Angaleena ditches the fun or laidback approach and goes for something different. “Country” is not the first, nor will it be the last protest song in country music, not by a long shot. However, I think it’s one of the best ones there is, and Grady Smith has already explained it better than I can. It’s not the sound that’s the problem, and that’s evidenced by this song’s heavy grunge feel combined with Yelawolf’s rap breakdown. What I love about this track in particular is that it makes fun of the singers claiming how damn country they are, and as someone who literally does not live in the country or has ever done anything that “true country folk” are supposed to do, I love that it picks this niche of country music to really destroy. I get that some people are tired of these tracks but I do feel like this does a great job for what it is.
I will say that despite me absolutely loving Yelawolf as a rapper though, his verse isn’t the most creative in the world. I mean, yeah, go Sturgill and all I guess, but I can name you better artists at the moment if you really want to get into who’s saving country music (like Jason Eady just off the top of my head). The weird part is that it doesn’t detract from my life of the song all that much, mostly because it’s just incredibly fierce in its delivery, and I can’t help but just say “hell yeah!”
What’s even better is that it’s followed by my personal favorite track, the title track. In terms of best constructed songs this year, this will be hard to beat. It’s incredibly pleasing on a melodic level for one, and two I love the buildup it takes before we get to that more atmospheric high during the chorus. Moreover, I also feel as if she’s great at handling these more vulnerable type of tracks, as you can really just feel the pain the narrator feels of literally feeling bound by shackles to an oppressing husband. In many ways it’s an even better version of Lori McKenna’s “The Bird and The Rifle” and THINK ABOUT THAT FOR A SECOND. Yeah.
Aside from that, the record really starts off with a bang with tracks like “Dreams Don’t Come True” and “Only Blood”. With the latter, the more laidback approach is understandable since it helps to build up to that plot twist at the end, and the former just once again is another great showcase of how Angaleena is phenomenal at singing from the perspective of the defeated (and oddly enough there’s actually some humorous lines in this song). “Groundswell” is also another echo of that sentiment (I also love the earthy banjo that it opens up with).
OVERALL ASSESSMENT: Whoo, you know, for as much as I wish this album could have been a little tighter in some places, there are some fantastic moments here. Again, even though the foundation for this album is good, I also feel as if many of these tracks aren’t developed enough either in their moods or their lyricism. But hell, if I need any reason to check out Wrangled by Angaleena Presley, “Country” and the title track are really all I need. As such, I do think is record is very good as a whole, which is why I’m leaning towards a very, VERY strong 7/10 for this one. Much like a lot of albums I’ve covered lately, I’m not sure how you’ll like it, but I’d say it’s well worth your time.
Best Tracks: “Wrangled”, “Country (feat. Yelawolf)”, “Dreams Don’t Come True”, “Groundswell”, “Only Blood”
Worst Track: “High School”