Margo Price‘s admiration for Stevie Nicks is well-known. She and Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real have covered the classic Nicks/Tom Petty collaboration “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around”. When the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named Nicks as the first woman to be inducted to the Hall of Fame twice, Price tweeted her congratulations: “You are a badass and an inspiration.” But Price’s voice has never really sounded like Nicks. That is, until now. From the melodic pop venom of the title track that opens That’s How Rumors Get Started to the elongated spiritual expressions of “I’d Die For You” that closes the record, Price sounds as if she is channeling Nicks’ ethereal vocals and oblique inflections.
The twang of Price’s vocals never did sound quite right for a Midwestern Farmer’s Daughter. And while the Nashville denizen was marketed as country rock because of her rural roots, she was always more rock than country. This is a Sturgill Simpson produced album with a studio band that includes top-notch players including keyboardist Benmont Tench from Petty’s Heartbreakers, guitarist Matt Sweeney (Adele, Iggy Pop), bassist Pino Palladino (D’Angelo, John Mayer), and drummer James Gadson (Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye). Notice the lack of steel guitar, fiddle, and mandolin. According to the press release, That’s How Rumors Get Started was largely cut in less than a week at East West in Los Angeles, in the tiny room where Pet Sounds and Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5” were recorded. The album was originally slated for a May 8 release, but it got postponed due to COVID-19.
While Price’s first two full-length albums seemed focused on the past as a way of constructing her identity, this album looks to present circumstances with a clear eye towards the future. “Way back in the good old days / Things weren’t really all that good,” she sings on “Twinkle Twinkle” with an electric guitar sneering in the background. She uses her history less seriously than she used to. Now Price notes that it’s as if Price won the lottery. She’s on television and her opinions are sought after the press. But she’s not naïve. The song rocks hard and ends with her shouting, “It’s a bitch.”
Price’s poetic, quasi-confessional lyrics allow her to work in several different musical styles while remaining as a fixture in the middle. (Several songs were co-written with her husband, Jeremy Ivey.) She can sing to a baby in a maternal voice on “Hey Child” and go all pop psychedelic on “Heartless Mind” with equal ease. Her voice may recall Nicks instead of the Price from past albums, but that’s a good thing that shows she has grown as in artist instead of getting locked into a single groove.
Price’s songs cover a range of personal topics. She’s got a keen ear for the one-liner that cuts two ways (“Sobriety is a hell of a drug”, “You were the needle, and I was the pain”) and provides telling details (“Drive-in movies, Coca-Cola, Sweet 16, that kiss of death”) to set the atmosphere. But she doesn’t preach, despite the presence of the Nashville Friends Gospel Choir on several tracks. Price notes the problems of housing, healthcare, and other contemporary issues, but you won’t find a squeak about conventional politics on the record.
Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is one of the best-selling albums in rock and roll history, with importance and influence than cannot be overstated. The title to That’s How Rumors Get Started coyly references to the release, and the Price picture on the cover recalls Nicks’ self-created gypsy-like image. Price’s exploration of Nicks’ oeuvre has opened Price up to going in new directions. But make no mistake, Price is her own artist. Nicks’ recordings may have inspired Price, but the material on this album shows just how much she has developed as a unique and talented artist.