All American Made (Third Man Records)
Calling Margo Price smart, for she sure is, would be selling her short.
It’s true, insight, wit and sharpness are all here, and they sparkle right up to the last track on this second album.
That song, the title track, mixes spoken samples and her own words to question exactly what it is that lies within the nation’s, and her own, spirit, with references to Ronald Reagan, Tom Petty and the self-referential iconography American art creates and devours.
Taken alone, you could dine out on All American Made: it’s a song which balances trust and weary wisdom with some bitterness and concurrent refusal to go easy on herself. And it does that with a tune that sticks to you. Yep, smart and fascinating.
Look also at country cha-cha-cha Pay Gap, which addresses, yes, the pay gap between men and women with historical/musical context and acerbic lines that puts it alongside the 1960s social commentary songs of Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. Or Cocaine Cowboys, which feels like Steely Dan crossed with Dolly Parton and skewers the posers, snorters, rorters and gropers anywhere.
And even one of the outright fun honky tonk songs here, Weakness, which shows a clean pair of heels to anyone dawdling to the dancefloor, makes a good argument through its verses to see its chorus line – “sometimes my weakness is stronger than me” – as more than classic country wordplay but further truth-in-advertising for a woman prepared to be harder on herself than anyone else could.
But along with smart, you need to also describe Price as intuitive and emotional, a writer and singer with a grasp of the gentle art of persuasion.
Whether it’s the honky tonk women of Wild Women, where she outruns the devil but not herself, the country soul (with Levon Helm shout out) of A Little Pain, where she almost convinces you that there’s sense in “a little pain, never hurt anyone” because the pleasure makes it all worthwhile, or the Coat Of Many Colors-like mountain air, Heart Of America, which highlights but doesn’t glorify regular living, Price wins you to her side.
I will be in the minority I suspect in not being sold on the duet with Willie Nelson, Learning To Lose, which feels like they are slightly at cross purposes. It’s the only false step for mine. More successful, in the unexpected round, is the gospel soul Do Right By Me, which I hope Mavis Staples covers one day, and the plainly dealt, quiet beauty, Loner, where Price sings to an empty but unending sky but declines the chance to showboat.
There’s more to like here - I’ve already added Don’t Say It to my dance card next time the drink gets my shy arse out of a chair - but this is enough to go on with I reckon.
What a pleasing, sticking-fast, and, yes, smart, record this is.
SPOTIFY: Listen to Margo Price – All American Made here
APPLE MUSIC: Listen to Margo Price – All American Made here