Strays (Loma Vista)
TO FIGURE THAT THIS BOLDLY STRIDING OUT album, and to an even greater extent its accompanying memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It – two works that don’t just note survival and success but find cause to celebrate it – is Margo Price saying fuck you to those who blocked, bullied or bluffed her on the way to here, would be perfectly reasonable.
Fuck you to the industry and its fat-arsed powerbrokers for a damn fine start. Fuck you to the grifters and gropers who tried to get their piece when Price had less than nothing to her name but her talent. Fuck you for that matter to the personal demons that threatened derailment over the years.
But the best fuck you in all of this is that Strays is a record that makes most of those people wholly irrelevant. Whether you think she’s a country singer or not, whether you want personal tales or character songs, whether you value tradition over adventure, Price goes where she wants. And where she wants is everything, everywhere, all at once.
At almost every turn you can feel the tug of country music, even if it might just be in the faint reverberations of distant pedal steel or the crack in her voice, but there are psychedelic rock songs, electric folk tunes, spacious indie atmospheres and big pop exploding out of tinny electro beginnings. There are songs that direct themselves to periods of self-repair and reclamation and others painting stories of people with choices that aren’t really choices, ones where relationships just seem too hard and others where too hard is just a waystation.
In Anytime You Call, the spirit of George Harrison is evoked, from a languid but alluring melody to a twin-toned guitar solo and backing vocals that seem poised to hit a choir high, all positioning a passing listener on the front lawn of Friar Park in the summer of 1970. It’s oddly buoyant.
Immediately though, the next song, Lydia, pulls us right back to the greying corner of an American city that could be anywhere and anytime as a woman thinks about options that each reek of smashed up yesterdays and crushed tomorrows. The stark acoustic guitar feels like the guidepost, but a lost in the wind electric and slowly undulating strings blur that and we feel as disconcertingly unsteady as Lydia might.
Price, however, never comes across as uncertain musically on Strays. The organ and snaking pulse of Been To The Mountain, with its open-shouldered entry to the album, holds its moody shape through every temptation to roar into some free-for-all. Eventually that coiled potential, that refusal to be anything else until or unless it so chooses, becomes the defining element. That process is repeated several songs later in Change Of Heart, which leans back into blues circling an agitated centre but keeping itself in check, defying the tug of song gravity as much as our expectation.
Whether it’s the graceful Christine McVie overlay on the sweet gingham of Time Machine, or the way the bramble ramble of Light Me Up repeatedly cruises into and out of expansive southern rock that balances greasiness and grunt, you’re never in doubt of Price’s confidence in her direction.
These are the kind of decisions that reflect clarity of mind and confidence. The kind of thing that doesn’t need to say fuck you because its very ease is the ultimate repudiation.