Country Jukebox Jury LP: Margo Price – Strays

As in any city, there’s the touristy bit and the ‘real’ bit. If Lower Broadway is where the glamour of Nashville lies, then the Eastern bit of the city is where the cool kids hang out.

Margo Price told her local magazine The East Nashvillian in 2018 that one winter she and her husband and musical soulmate Jeremy Ivey ‘didn’t have money to pay the gas deposit, so we didn’t have heat all winter’. Now she’s mates with Willie Nelson and has just released her fourth album, whose opening track Been To The Mountain includes a reference to ‘food stamps’.

It had taken 15 years for Margo, the ‘Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’ from Illinois, to achieve any success in town, by which time she was in her mid-thirties while mothering twins. One, Ezra, passed away shortly after being born, which sent Margo into depression, alcoholism and a DUI which took her to a weekend in jail, about which she has also written.

Just as Yola’s career has benefitted by Dan Auerbach’s patronage, so Margo got a lift from her association with Jack White, who signed her to Third Man Records. Her best-loved songs have a political tinge, such as Pay Gap and the infamous This Town Gets Around, on which she sings ‘it’s not who you know, it’s who you blow’. With Loretta Lynn no longer with us, Margo is taking on Issues and earning plaudits, fans and useful fees for college funds, especially as she had her first daughter in 2019.

Awards, Rolling Stone interviews, sell-out dates at the Ryman Auditorium and Saturday Night Live beckoned, as did a book deal to write her 2022 memoir Maybe We’ll Make It. Willie Nelson invited her onto the board of Farm Aid, where she regularly plays, and she will celebrate her fortieth birthday in April. And Willie’s 90th at the Hollywood Bowl.

Before that pair of hootenannies, Margo is on the promotional circuit for Strays, which she produced with country-rocker Jonathan Wilson and which features some famous friends who aren’t called Willie. Sharon Van Etten co-wrote and adds harmonies to the suitably poppy Radio, while Mike Campbell brings his guitar expertise to the multifarious Light Me Up, which has the line ‘paranoid by cryptic dreams that left me so uptight’.

Lucius, who might well win a Grammy or two for their work with Margo’s fellow independent spirit Brandi Carlile, join her on Anytime You Call, which was a solo write from Jeremy. One presumes he wrote it about himself, and how he is still willing to be a friend even though the two subjects of the song are ‘not as stable as we seem’.

The five Ivey-Price compositions (one of which is Light Me Up) include the two impact tracks which are both bluesy chuggers: the aforementioned Been To The Mountain, which begins with the declaration ‘I got nothing to prove’; and Change of Heart, which has a candy-flavoured chorus to match the stabs of organ throughout. The other two are County Road, a six-minute track whose narrative and arrangement unfurl to close the album’s first side, and Landfill, which closes the album proper with delayed guitars to mimic the ‘Sahara winds’ of the second verse; ‘only love,’ she concludes, ‘can tear you apart’.

Elsewhere Margo mixes Issues with Grooves. The former are described on Lydia, which was written in the shadow of the overturning of the Roe v Wade statute: ‘Just make a decision, it’s yours’ positions Margo as a friend whom Lydia can use while she waits tables at a bar. The music complements the lyric perfectly, circling back round on itself, and the sung-spoken delivery makes the song come off like one by Guy Clark, the patron saint of country songwriting. There’s a huge amount of pathos for the song’s subject and I am sure it will be picked up as a sort of protest song.

The sugar comes from Time Machine, a delicious arrangement with sombre lyrics (‘Nothing is ever going to change’). Non-binary singer/songwriter Lawrence Rothman, who was all over the credits to Amanda Shires’ recent album, brings their pen to Hell in the Heartland, more blues in a minor key sung with believability. The final minute, which speeds up into the sunset, is excellent.

To promote the album Margo is playing rock venues like the 9.30 Club in Washington DC and Webster Hall in New York, but is booked into the Ryman for her home show. It was Tom Petty, the man who enlisted Mike Campbell as a Heartbreaker, who called country music ‘bad rock with a fiddle’. Helen M Jerome was right to call the album ‘non-judgemental and beautiful’ in her Holler Country review; for balance, Duncan Warwick’s one-star Country Music People write-up called it ‘absolutely nothing to do with country music’.

You be the judge!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: