Check out the artwork of Margo Price’s third album That’s How Rumors Get Started and you’ll immediately discern the aesthetic shift that has been attempted. The muted, almost ghostly quality to the covers of debut Midwest Farmers Daughter and follow-up All American Made has been replaced by shimmering sunset hues on the Illinois native’s latest. The assumption then is that the tone of the new record has also shifted. These earlier records were defined by their atypical (for the genre) political observations and unvarnished personal revelations; it was why Rolling Stone regarded All American Made as the best Country/Americana record in 2017. On the surface then, the new record seems to be re-packaging Margo Price’s philosophy into something that is more immediately appealing to more folk.
The result of this is a more refined, slicker approach musically; the title track possesses a more Laurel Canyon, Fleetwood Mac vibe than the Nashville country of earlier. Read between the lines though, because Price’s astute lyrical observations still remain. The brisk ‘Letting Me Down’ is equally slick, with arena-sized melodic pretensions matched by Price’s soaring vocals. There’s a sense though that this is just a bit too polished. The more unrefined aspects of the Americana genre have been buffed out somewhat, the musical inflections we expect muted slightly and ‘Twinkle Twinkle’ comes at just the right time. There’s a sassiness to the culturally aware lyrics, a Sheryl Crow groove to the vocals and the abrasive guitar, somewhere in-between The Black Keys and ZZ Top adds some much needed belligerence to proceedings before ‘Stone Me’ and ‘Hey Child’ revisit the glossier tones of earlier.
Once again, there is a welcome shift in style as the elegance of these tracks is replaced by the more flamboyant 80s pluck of ‘Heartless Mind’. The feistiness returns amid breakneck synths, gritty guitars and swirling solos. It’s got the attitude of Bonnie Tyler and the energy of Karla Devito’s ‘We Are Not Alone’, which got Molly Ringwald dancing in The Breakfast Club and is Margo Price at her invigorating best.
We return to the more refined approach for much of the remainder of the record, and although it is hard to pick holes in tracks like ‘Gone to Stay’ and ‘Prisoner of the Highway’, they do suffer from a softening of the rootsy style as well as Price’s more contentious polemics. As if in acknowledgment of this, album closer ‘I’d Die For You’ feels rawer and this is enhanced by Price’s more unfiltered vocals, which are goosebump inducing as the song peaks amid a clatter of brusque guitar. It’s a fearless and thrilling way to close the record. This is the Margo Price we love!