Friday, June 15, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1147: Margo Price

The Odyssey continues with a little country music. There is a lot of bad country music out there, but there is also a lot of good stuff if you dig for it. here’s some of that.

Disc 1147 is… All American Made
Artist: Margo Price

Year of Release: 2017

What’s up with the Cover? Margo fading into the landscape…or is she part of the landscape? Or is she the Ghost of Scrub-Brush Ridge? I like that last one. It’s not a thing, but it should be.

How I Came To Know It: My friend Anthony introduced me to Margo Price through her first album, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” in 2016. When “All American Made” came out in 2017 I liked the first few songs so gave it a chance.

How It Stacks Up:  I have both of Margo Price’s albums and if you’ve been reading along you already know what they are. They are equally good, but I’ll put “All American Made” in a photo finish at…#1.

Ratings: 4 stars

Anyone who says that modern country music has nothing to offer us has never heard Margo Price. On “All American Made” Price once again shows that traditional country music can be socially relevant and authentic now if it is done right.

Price is one of several female country artists currently shaking things up in a genre that has a tendency toward being stale, superficial or both. Others fighting that tendency include Courtney Marie Andrews, Lindi Ortega and Nikki Lane. All are talented singer-songwriters that aren’t content to just sing three and a half minutes of ‘yeehaw’ and “I feel sexy” and instead dig down deeper. Check them out as well.

Price is the most pure country of the four, and with two top twenty records has had the most commercial success, although even that is a woeful lack of appreciation given the quality of records she’s making.

Price doesn’t have powerhouse vocals, but she makes up for it with a sweet tone and an honest delivery. On “All American Made” this is supplemented well with some solid playing by the backup band. The songs mosey when they need to mosey and gallop when that’s what’s called for. Price’s acoustic guitar work is subtly strong and Jamie Davis (electric guitar) and Luke Schneider (pedal steel) are both the right fit for Margo’s sound, with a light touch that delivers a lot of emotion without ever upstaging the star of the show.

As with her debut album, Price isn’t afraid to explore scars and faults, whether they are with her or in the music industry in general.

There are plenty of men behaving badly on the record, but Price never lets that be an excuse for self-destructive behavior. As she sings on “Weakness”, “I can hurt myself much more than anyone else can.” While she can – and does – call out selfish lovers and self-obsessed louts, she never shies away from taking responsibility for situations, right down to when she shows those louts the door. It is empowering stuff which rejects the vacuous expressions of cowgirl power you see from her mainstream Nashville counterparts. Instead Price opts for self-examination and the agency, and power that blossoms from knowing yourself first.

That’s not to say Price won’t call out idiots directly; she can and does. One of my favourites is “Cocaine Cowboys” which takes aim at all the idiots who dress up in western clothes but are a far cry from the real men they emulate:

“Cocaine cowboys they’re bad in the saddle
But they’re coming from New York, LA and Seattle
They’re all that, they don’t rope no cattle, they don’t ride no bulls.”

This song reminded me of all the drunken yahoos you encounter in Nashville walking up and down Honky Tonk Row. Later in the evening that scene can become quite a shit-show every bit as drug and liquor crazed as Las Vegas, but with more cowboy hats.

Price isn’t afraid of broader social issues. On “Pay Gap” she speaks out against women artists getting paid less than their male counterparts. In addition to being a timely commentary, “Pay Gap” is a cleverly structured song. I’m no expert, but I believe the verses are in 4/4 time but when Price gets to the chorus (“pay gap, pay gap/why don’t you do the math”) she switches to 2/4, letting the song’s time signature underscore her point. At least I think that happens. I’m not great at time signatures. “Pay Gap” also has some sweet Mexican-style flourishes of guitar and accordion.

Price takes on the plight of the American farmer on “Heart of America” and her more general concerns with America on the title track. That title track is an exceptionally poignant piece that would have been a lot better if it didn’t have an intro and outro sampling a bunch of presidential speeches. It is too obvious and doesn’t add to a song that delivers the message just fine on its own.

My other quibble is with “Learning to Lose,” a duet with Willie Nelson. The song is fine but I’ve never been a fan of Nelson’s voice. I know that this opinion is heretical and a bit rich coming from a guy who fawns over Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, but it is how I feel. Also, Price and Nelson sing with different phrasings rather than in harmony (or even unison). It is deliberate and done with skill, but it still felt disjointed to my ear.

Those are my only real quibbles with “All American Made,” though. This is a really great record from an artist who is showing that she is fixin’ to be around for a while. She’s dropped two albums in two years and I already can’t wait for what she does next.

Best tracks: Don’t Say It, Weakness, A Little Pain, Pay Gap, Cocaine Cowboys, Heart of America, Do Right By Me

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