Margo Price
Photo: Alysse Gafkjen / Courtesy of Shore Fire Media

Margo Price ‘Strays’ Down Many Musical Paths in Search of Meaning

Strays shows Margo Price’s willingness to try new things and seek new ways of experiencing the world, and her strong talents as a musician and a human being.

Margo Price
Loma Vista Recordings
13 January 2023

The multi-talented singer-songwriter and memoirist Margo Price‘s latest album, Strays, is her most adventurous one yet. This is not surprising, considering how she made it. Price and her husband (Jeremy Ivey) went to the South Carolina beach in the summer and took a six-day mushroom-filled trip looking for insights and inspirations. She also gave up drinking alcohol. About a year went by as she worked on other projects and thought about the record. Then she headed to southern California to record the new album with producer Jonathan Wilson and Price’s longtime band, Pricetags.

The ‘shrooms must have inspired Price’s creativity. Or maybe it was giving up the booze. Or perhaps it was both of them or neither, but what these behaviors indicate about Price is her willingness to try new things and seek new ways of experiencing the world. She takes risks. The songs and instrumentalizations vary in topics and style. There’s no dominant theme as much as a central intellect and a heart. The world will make you crazy if you look at it too long, she sings, but she can’t look away.

Take the fanciful “Time Machine”, which posits a return to the past when reality made sense. Over a pop beat, the narrator realizes that maybe times weren’t different then as much as her perceptions have changed. That doesn’t prevent her from wanting to go back to her personal Willoughby. Willful ignorance can be bliss. Pretending is one way to cope.

Or there’s the heavier arena rock sound of “Been to the Mountain”. Price boldly proclaims her past trials and tribulations have made her strong. She sings in mythic terms of being everything from “a queen, a drifter, a cowboy, a devil, a bride and a boxer, a pilgrim and a thief… a child and a mother, a victim and a tumor, a waitress and a consumer, on food stamps and out of my mind.” The litany shows how much she has felt and learned as well as her ability to delineate the roles we are all expected to play while going through life.

Then there’s the mellow country resonance of “Country Road”, which features Price’s sweet and soulful vocals mixed with Micah Hulscher’s lead piano and Alex Munoz’s pedal steel in a manner very reminiscent of early Joni Mitchell. The song meanders like the road in the song’s title as the lyrics suggest the opposite of “Been to the Mountain”—no one really knows or learns anything. We go through life because time passes, and maybe that’s enough of a reason to keep going.

A person can always have a “Change of Heart”, as Price croons on Strays‘ declaration of independence, which has reached number one on the Americana charts. One can’t alter the past; the only thing for sure is one will get older. Hulscher plays Farfisa organ like it’s 1966, and he’s in Question Mark and the Mysterians to highlight the fickleness of the sentiment. The mix of musical styles from the past and present ironically suggests the only thing that never changes is change happens.

Jon Pareles’ New York Times Top 25 songs of 2022 identified Price’s “Lydia” as one of the year’s best singles. Price plays acoustic guitar backed by a string quartet as she narrates the backstory of a young woman considering whether she should have an abortion. For more than six minutes we enter the mind and memories of the protagonist and her decision. The chamber folk musical accompaniment suggests the weight and timelessness of the concern.

The aforementioned songs may be very different in many ways, but they are typical in their shared intelligence and compassion with the other material on the disc. Strays reveals Price’s strong talents as a musician and a human being.

RATING 9 / 10