Although the critical success of Margo Price’s first two albums was undeniable, the records were perhaps too niche to guarantee chart-busting commercial success. On her third record she appeared to aim for a direction that would appeal to a broader audience, resulting in a more refined, polished experience. It was an enjoyable record but it felt like Price was being to philanthropic. Latest record Strays seems more autonomous. It exists because Margo Price wanted it to.
This results in a release that turns on a dime at every opportunity. The feisty opener ‘Been To The Mountain’ and its non-conformist vibe establishes Price’s modus operandi; “I got nothing to prove, I got nothing to sell, I’m not buying what you’ve got, I ain’t ringing no bells” she sings, perhaps suggesting a rawer, more militant aesthetic. It’s an unapologetic opener. “Take your best shot” she screams to reinforce the point, but this is replaced by the warm tones of ‘Light Me Up’ and Price’s vocals sweeten amidst the acoustic glow. Don’t be fooled though. With the aid of Tom Petty’s guitarist Mike Campbell, the song morphs into something almost Zeppelin-esque and the song is a whirling dervish by it’s conclusion.
Sharon Van-Etten adds vocal weight to the more swoonsome ‘Radio’ and overall, the record does appear to be a more collaborative affair, no doubt affecting the DNA of each track. Having said that, there’s a real confidence in her own abilities on the marvellous ‘County Road’. Epic, stirring and poignant in equal measure and full of evocative imagery along with a heartbreaking denouement, it’s Margo Price at her absolute best. The next track could be described as overly winsome after this, but is more evidence of an artist feeling liberated. “I’m on more than just a search for large crowds and accolades. I’m trying to find what my soul needs” she says. After the sorrow of the previous track, the trippy ‘Time Machine’ is just what you need.
Price has always been a fighter and the songs which resonate most are the ones that seem to go on a deep dive into her own psyche. The more intimate ‘Lydia’ also demonstrates a master storyteller at work, but she still manages to brand it with her own personal observations on what can be a coarse, unpleasant world at times. What ultimately emerges is a varied, typically personal collection of songs from a distinctive American artist, but pigeon-hole her at your peril.