Margo Price is someone I turn to when I want to hear country that’s not yet tarnished by the Nashville music industry. The type of country you get from her longtime friend Sturgill Simpson, co-producer of her most recent album That’s How Rumors Get Started which was released in 2020. The type of music which you also hear from Jason Isbell, or Tyler Childers, where the roots are deep and the sensitivities are decidedly not “love it or leave it.”
Price, who is from a small town in Illinois and grew up singing in the church choir (which is almost a requirement to be a country singer), moved to Nashville when she was 20 years old. She came with a fresh approach to her songs and a voice that can easily handle both heartbreak and defiance. Hurtin’ (On The Bottle) is a very early Price single, which I’ve included so you can hear that great country voice coming of age.
The acoustic It’s Ain’t Drunk Driving if You’re Riding a Horse, is her dark ballad about a DUI arrest, in which she says what really scares her are the “coked-up truck drivers and T-Birds on meth” as well as the “liquored-up grandmas going down to the bar.” But in her telling, her horse does all the thinking for her.
“My equine companion is kind and good-hearted
But he will not back down from a fight
And down at the stable he’ll drink you under the table
But he wasn’t drinking tonight
Well I pleaded and pleaded without any gain
Took all the names in the Bible I could think of in vain
And the judge, he had the gall to swear on my wealth
He said, “what do you have to say for yourself
Of your sinning and your drinking
Do you feel much remorse?”
No, cause it ain’t drunk driving
If you’re riding a horse”
Hands of Time is from Price’s first full-length album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and it is about turning back the clock on those cruel hands of time which have taken so much from those who worked the land in the Midwest.
Bob Boilen of NPR wrote of the day he greeted Margo Price in the NPR garage before her Tiny Desk performance.
“…tears were streaming down her face. It was Wednesday morning, Nov. 9, the day after the 2016 election. For her — as for many Americans — it was a stunning and bewildering moment in time, a day when life and the everyday took on new meaning. And so when she and her band began to play “All American Made,” a song she’s sung many times before, those words about America’s changes and failures in the 21st century seemed even more powerful.
The title song was part of a collection of strong material she released in 2017.
Margo’s 2017 album All American Made…was named the #1 Country/Americana album of the year by Rolling Stone, and one of the top albums of the decade by Esquire, Pitchfork and Billboard, among others. In its wake, Margo sold out three nights at The Ryman Auditorium, earned her first Grammy nomination for Best New Artist, and much more.
As you can see in the official video and the lyrics, All American Made isn’t about your typical country music themes of drinking, fighting, and loving. No, country is a genre where you don’t hear a great deal about Reagan selling weapons to Iran.
Something in my bloodline or something
In my gut
Just go to California in a rusty pick-up truck
It’s all American made
1987 and I didn’t know it then
Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders
But it won’t be the first time baby and it won’t be the end
They were all American made
But I was just a child, unaware of the effects
Raised on sports and Jesus not the usual suspects
So tell me Mr Preddy what you do you think will
It’s all American made
And I wonder if the President gets much sleep at night
And if the folks on welfare are making it alright
I’m dreaming of that highway that stretches out of sight
And it’s all American made“
Her album Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman showcases Price’s dynamic live shows. Here is a audio version of Ain’t Living Long Like This featuring Sturgill Simpson on guitar in an arrangement that just cooks.
Revelations — a simple acoustic number with much more depth than the arrangement would suggest — is another of the live tunes from the Ryman album.
“I wrote Revelations on a crumbled up napkin
In an all-night diner by the roadway side
Waiter he was an angel kept filling up my coffee
And we made good conversation while I waited for my ride
Last night I played for a sold-out crowd down in Houston
Then we drove out to the ocean playing in the sand
These dark sunglasses I’m wearing this morning
Can’t cover up my headache or the scars on my hands
Been healing the sick, blessing the poor
My feet are so tired and bruised
Hallelujah, what’s it to you
Can’t you see I need saving too?“
That’s How Rumors Gets Started, Price’s newest release, is “an album of ten new, original songs that commit her sky-high and scorching rock-and-roll show to record for the very first time.” Again, the topics are not exactly standard-fare country music industry offerings.
“(W)hether she’s singing of motherhood or the mythologies of stardom, Nashville gentrification or the national healthcare crisis, relationships or growing pains, she’s crafted a collection of music that invites people to listen closer than ever before.“
The set from Dee’s Country Lounge showcases more of the rock-and-roll sensibilities she’s been performing recently (warning: somewhat explicit lyrics).
I really came to know Price’s work through her duets, such as the ones with Jack White, the late John Prine, and a video released earlier this year with Nathaniel Rateliff and The Night Sweats.
Margo Price won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those looking for country outside the Nashville norm that tackles some of heartbreak of what people are really addressing in 21st century America, she’s worth knowing.
More to come…
Image: Cover of the Margo Price album Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman (credit: Margo Price)