Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Angaleena Presley / Laura Cantrell / Lucinda Williams / Jenny Scheinman/ Lee Ann Womack / Nikki Lane / Rosanne Cash / Sunny Sweeney / Brad Paisley


Angaleena Presley:
American Middle Class

(Slate Creek)

This moderately astonishing bunch of songs begins with a long series of homely oxymorons and a fable about not going to hell—both a bit overworked I think, both probably up front to deflect the hard news not quite specified by the title except insofar as it uses the C-word at all. Because as one track after another then bangs home, the middle class this coal miner’s daughter knows from life is up against it. From the line at the grocery store to the life of last night’s party taking the long way home in her high heels, nobody’s quite getting by. “Dry County Blues” is about meth, “Pain Pills” about opioids, “Drunk” about that guitar player who made her an all too honest woman after she got “Knocked Up.” Shit-shooting Pistol Annie Presley is grim and acerbic and kind all at once. And she sings pretty as you please. A


Laura Cantrell: No Way There From Here

(Thrift Shop)

Now in her mid forties, Nashville-born, New York-based Columbia grad Cantrell has always been one of those intensely likable, not necessarily female Nashville helpmeets whose own music is a quantum too mild to break out of their circle. But on her first album of new songs since she stepped back to have a kid, two cowrites with the darker and sharper Amy Allison are intensely flavorful: the pan-feminist “All the Girls Are Complicated” and the pining-for-my-guy “Can’t Wait.” Great melodies too from Jennifer O’Connor on the songwriter-centric “Beg or Borrow Days” and Franklin Bruno on the dislocated “No Way There From Here” and, hey, Laura Cantrell acting alone on the calmly bereft “Letter She Sent.” That’s a lot. Welcome outside the circle, ma’am. A MINUS


Lucinda Williams:
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone

(Highway 20)

You’ll never guess—a double album that would be punchier as a single! It doesn’t help that the 20 tracks average over five minutes apiece, so that the philosophical grist of “Temporary Nature (of Any Precious Thing),” for instance, leaches what value its no-love-without-loss wheeze has as the song refuses to end. My strategy, which I’ve made a reality in my iTunes folder, is to finish off the top five of disc one with—somewhat less sure-shottedly—the bottom four of disc two. The political to the personal. Nine-minute cover to wander out on. Title: Down to the Bone. B PLUS


Jenny Scheinman: The Littlest Prisoner (Sony Masterworks) Fiddler/violinist to the stars straight-talks lissomely about love and loss (“The Littlest Prisoner,” “Sacrifice”) ***

Lee Ann Womack: The Way I’m Livin’ (Sugar Hill) Takes sin almost as seriously as Jerry Lee Lewis, only she’s nicer about it (“The Way I’m Livin’,” “Sleeping With the Devil”) **

Nikki Lane: All or Nothin’ (New West) Loves sex and is joined at the hip to her man, which unfortunately for her aren’t the same thing (“Right Time,” “Man Up”) **

Rosanne Cash: The River and the Thread (Blue Note) Melodies strong, vocals intent, arrangements deft, lyrics worked, impact minimal despite it all (“World of Strange Design,” “50,000 Watts”) *

Sunny Sweeney: Concrete (Republic Nashville) Bad old girl makes good (“Amy,” “Drink Myself Single”) *

Brad Paisley: Moonshine in the Trunk (Arista) Not-so-stealth Democrat respectfully requests that Nashville let him back in the frat (“Shattered Glass,” “High Life”) *


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Follow Robert Christgau on Twitter at @rxgau.
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