Country Grammar is a recurring monthly column about country music. The purpose of this column will be to analyze and demystify country releases, large or small, and help halt the notion that Country music is somehow less deserving of introspective analysis than rock, rap, or pop. It will highlight the great moments, and occasionally, dig deep into the bad ones, but the goal is always to bring more attention to a genre that is far too often swept under the rug due to class assumptions or music criticism’s clear rockist past.
Yesterday I was in an Uber (I know), on my way to a difficult doctor’s appointment, the kind only women have to go to. Though I clearly wanted to mentally prepare in silence, my driver wouldn’t leave me alone. He was peppering me with questions I didn’t want to answer, as men often do, until he’d wrangled out of me what my job is. Upon learning that I’m a music editor, most people follow up by asking what kind of music I cover or care about, so I told him rap and country. Most people will leave rap be (ignorance leads to silence), but country they’ll prod at a bit. Why do you like country music? he wanted to know. So I told him one of the major reasons I do: Because country music is a place where people can talk about their pain and turn it into something that makes them feel strong. Specifically, it’s one of the few places where women can safely do this.
Country music is one of the few places in contemporary culture where women can be angry. Women aren’t supposed to be furious or upset with men, or by the cards life has dealt them, or they’re labeled “crazy.” Country women took that word and turned it into a compliment. We’re supposed to keep the peace and be nurturing, gentle, and approachable. Conversely, we’re allowed to be brokenhearted if we’ve failed in any of those areas, but if we don’t have partners, we’re deemed inherently flawed. Women in music are supposed to be sexy (in men’s eyes) and most of all young; we’re supposed to be beautiful and ceaselessly happy and thin while still bearing children, juggling stress, caring for our family and providing love to a partner. We’re supposed to watch men with half our talent fail upward while we get told that our ideas won’t resonate, or that we’re “difficult.”
I love country music because Angaleena Presley is having none of that sh*t — she is angry, and exhausted, and talking about it. Even if a major label still won’t sign her — one of the best damn living songwriters in the genre — because she’s a curvy, 40-year-old brunette with a bone to pick and a sound that’s more barroom than pop ballad. In 2017, Angaleena put out an album that includes contributions from Guy Clark, Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe Chris and Morgane Stapleton (Chris’ literal better half), Wanda Jackson and Yelawolf, and still lords over every guest like a presiding rodeo queen. Yes, you read that right — Yelawolf. When you see guests as disparate as Guy Clark and Yelawolf, sit up and take notice, a person curated this, not a label. Angaleena Presley is country music, and it’s a shame more people haven’t heard her yet.