A dead baby, a lost farm, time in jail, alcoholism, divorce, sexual exploitation; the topics of Margo Price’s self-penned, somewhat autobiographical ten songs may sound like downers, but the opposite is true. Price rebels against fate and proclaims her existence with a loud yawp. She curses “the double-crossing back stabbing thief “of her better angel and promises to put her boot in the face of a gal who “wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass”. Sure, she’s having fun. Revenge is sweet. And I wouldn’t want to get her mad.
Price wears her musical influences on her sleeve: “About to Find Out” echoes Loretta Lynn’s “Fist City”; the ghost of George Jones rings through “Since You Put Me Down”; the spirit of inmate Merle Haggard on “Weekender”; and the gentle tones of Dolly Parton on “World’s Greatest Loser”, etc. She imbibes the best and makes it her own by making things personal. A listener has no way of knowing what is real and what Price invents as she snarls her songs of innocence and experience. It doesn’t matter. Her bold delivery and fresh take on classic tropes show she’s a master of detailing the chaos of life. She’s a double threat who can write ‘em and sing ‘em.
Her voice can be powerful and restrained at the same time to great effect. You have to hear Price belt out lines such as “she said she beat her boyfriend up while high on crack cocaine” to appreciate her ability to be tough and sympathetic simultaneously. She also sings with a serious twang. Price is the first country act and first Nashville act signed to Jack White’s Third Man Records. Despite spending her first two years of life on a family farm in rural Aledo, Illinois, she’s not really a Midwest Farmer’s Daughter although she could probably make one feel alright, like the song (“California Girls”) says.
However, feeling good is not what the album’s about. While Price hails from Nashville these days and sounds like it with her Southern accent, she trashes its musical politics in “This Town Gets Around” with lines like, “Well as the saying goes / It’s not who you know / but it’s who you blow / who will put you in the show.” Price reverses the conventional wisdom and labels Nashville the whore and its musicians merely servants.
The album itself was recorded in Memphis at the legendary Sun Studio, and mixed at the town’s Ardent Studios. She and her band cut the songs live to analog tape, which gives the music a vibrant sound. Price made the album first and sent it to White, who issued it untouched. He and his label executives understood the primal quality of the sonics add to the raw energy. Price’s country stylings sound like whiskey compared with the watery product often associated with Nashville, and no doubt the Memphis elements contribute to this result.
“Let’s go back to Tennessee,” Price begins the appropriately named “Tennessee Song”. Nashville, Memphis, and everywhere in between are her home. She’s no Midwestern girl. Like the Beach Boys once observed, she’s one of the Southern girls who will knock you out. That’s a real good thing.