Author Archives: Elizabeth Stack

Songwriting Is No Easy Task

I’ve written songs on and off from a pretty young age. Or I should say I’ve partially written songs. I almost never finish them, because halfway through or so I become hypercritical and decide I hate everything. There will usually be one part of the song that feels right, that actually says what I want to say and how I want to say it, while the rest doesn’t seem to measure up. When I do finish a song, that’s sort of the end of the road. I almost never share what I’ve written with anyone else.

For these reasons I was immediately hesitant when our final project was assigned that included the option to write an original song. I knew I could compile a playlist easily enough, but for me that felt like taking the easy way out. I’m pretty fond of expressing my opinion, and writing a song about a current social issue seemed like a great way to do that. If I could get it done. I was suddenly determined to finish a damn song, one I knew other people would get to see.

And so it began. The complete and total lack of any creative inspiration. I had no idea where to start, or even what I wanted my topic to be! Luckily, I remembered that on my phone I’d kept a few recordings of lines to songs that had popped into my head, but never been developed beyond that. I decided to listen back through them and see if anything sparked. There very first one I listened to was the lines, “Danger, Danger/I look it in the eye/ sometimes I get to wonderin’ why I’m not afraid to die.” I had forgotten all about them, but suddenly I could clearly see the direction I wanted to go.

Those lines became the basis for my chorus, which I was able to finish not long after. Then once again I was stumped. By now I knew that I wanted to tackle the issue of alcoholism, but I still wasn’t sure what direction I wanted to address it from. After thinking about it for probably too long, I decided I wanted the song to be written from the female perspective of someone who acknowledges she has a problem, if only vaguely, but at this point doesn’t believe she can change. While I didn’t want the song to be a cry into your Ben & Jerry’s type, I still wanted to convey some sense of sadness behind the wildness of the narrator’s life. I wanted to show that even though she tries to make it seem like she wouldn’t want things any other way, it’s more that she’s resigned herself to the pain.

Once that decision was made the song flowed pretty easily. Faster than any song I’ve written before. Even so, once it was done I still questioned/am questioning every line. The thought of other people reading what I have written, something that I care about, well it’s kind of terrifying. It’s a very vulnerable position to be in having others be able to judge something that comes from a personal place. I have such respect for the artists who do it all the time. Ultimately, I think it’s that vulnerability that can make music so unifying and beautiful.


Filed under Reflection

Angaleena Presley Goes Out On Her Own

Angaleena 2Angaleena Presley, a member of the Pistol Annies, recently released a solo album called American Middle Class. In it she establishes herself as an alt country force with smart honest lyrics, and a wide array of musical influences. Her slightly husky voice is at times haunting, and then blunt, confronting life’s tragedies and disappointments without pretense. Each track leaves the listener with the sense that Presley has seen her fair share of hard living, and she wants the rest of America to see it too.

The first song, “Ain’t no Man,” sets the tone for the album, immediately laying on Americana guitar and introducing the electric organ. She uses a series of vivid metaphors to describe a woman who has closed herself off from love. For example she sings, “Sturdy as a trailer in a hurricane, sweet as the smell of turpentine,” and, “mean as a snake in a small town zoo, ain’t nobody who could ever get to her hear.” Ignoring the traditional verse chorus form popular on the radio today in favor of uninterrupted narratives, its clear Presley is a different kind of country artist.\

It’s easy to pick out the gospel and blue grass influences throughout the album, both in instrumentals and the imagery of her lyrics. The steel guitar and banjo can be heard throughout the album alongside acoustic and electric guitars. She also sings about church, the devil, and sin in a way that places those things as symbols of the culture she is representing.

AngaleenaPresley also tackles the problems small middle class communities are facing that are often ignored or pushed under the rug. In “Pain Pills,” and “Dry County Blues,” she confronts boredom as a disease that people are self-treating with alcohol and drugs, and the damage that creates in the community. She subtly draws attention to the fact that much of this is due to the economy, and the loss of middle class jobs, “half the county’s laid off, laid up, or getting high.”

In my opinion, Presley really shines in her ability to root the album in a physical place and time. “All I Ever Wanted” ends with a recording of a drug addicted neighbor reciting scripture, and the title track, “American Middle Class,” features her father, a Kentucky coal miner, talking in an actual mine where he works. Though Presley is not shy about bringing up sensitive issues, she maintains a respect for the people and place she is singing about. She comes across more as if she is sympathizing rather than condemning.

I truly enjoyed American Middle Class and its more traditional country sound. It’s not an album you put on for background noise, but something you really listen to and reflect on. It’s not all serious though. “Knocked up,” and “Drunk,” provide some offbeat humor to contrast with some of the other tracks. Angaleena Presley’s style is somewhat like Kasey Musgraves, so if you like her, and even if you don’t, I highly recommend you give this album a listen.


Filed under Americana, Reviews

Country Firsts

In honor of my first blog post of the semester, I am going to write about some of my country music firsts. I have loved country music for my entire life, and some of my favorite memories include it.

I knew pretty much every word to every song on this album.

Going back to my early childhood years, immediately I think of Shania Twain, my first idol. In 1998 I was 4 years old in Charleston, South Carolina, and Shania was launching her first world tour for her third studio album, Come on Over. I thought she was just about perfect, and everything I wanted to be when I grew up. My mom had a tape, yes a tape, of her songs that she, my sister and I would sing right along to any time we were in the car for an extended period of time. Even now, whenever I’m starting a road trip I love to play some Shania. For my birthday I got one of her CDs, and for a couple years after it remained my top choice, along with the Back Street Boys, to lip sync my own concert to.

A few years later came my first country concert. By then I was living in New Hampshire, but as Brantley Gilbert says, ”country must be country wide.” One Friday after school my dad surprised me with three tickets to the Martina McBride concert, and Little Big Town, still one of my favorites, was the opener. I got to invite my best friend, and Dad sat a few rows back, so we could feel all grown up sitting by ourselves.  I remember that night so clearly, from what I was wearing to the car ride home recapping every moment. My personal favorite was when Little Big Town played “Boondocks,” which I played on repeat for weeks to come.

By high school I was happily back in the south in a small town outside of San Antonio called Helotes. I lived right down the road from Floore Country Store where Willie Nelson can frequently be found, and I could hear the music being played from my back porch. It’s also where I two stepped for the first time. I have to admit, it was pretty awkward. The steps are simple enough, but I had a hard time with being lead and kept trying to go in the wrong direction. When it came time to spin things just got messy. Luckily, my partner was a doll and we both laughed the missteps off. Since then, I am proud to say I have greatly improved. Spinning around a Texas dance floor to good music is one of my favorite ways to spend a Saturday night. If you’re ever in San Antonio, and have never been to Floore’s, I highly recommend stopping by to see artists such as Randy Rogers Band, or Whiskey Meyers.

You can't miss it.

You can’t miss it.

So there they are. A few of the many good memories I’ve had that country music played a role in. If you have any you’d like to share, I would love to read them!


Filed under Dancing, Reflection, Texas