Margo Price — Strays
Margo Price gives no fucks. Although it’s been a rough journey she has reached a point in her career- and in her life- where she is confident about who she is. “There’s a real freedom about being completely truthful about who I am, flaws and all,” she said recently.
That freedom, confidence, and truthfulness are all over Price’s remarkable new album, Strays. It’s an impossible record to classify – it’s Americana, it’s folk, it’s psychedelia, it’s absolutely both country and rock and roll. But more than that, Strays is an album that is impossible to dismiss.
Most of the songs on Strays were written by Price and her husband/musical partner Jeremy Ivy. To write the album Price and Ivey (who had recently recovered from a serious bout with COVID-19) left their Nashville home for an Airbnb in Charleston, South Carolina, where they took mushrooms and spent days listening to music. Price has said that “Been To The Mountain,” “Change Of Heart,” and “Light Me Up” were all written in one day, following a particularly epic mushroom trip. Hearing Strays, it’s hardly a surprise that their Charleston playlists included lots of Joni Mitchell, Patti Smith, Janis Joplin, Springsteen, Dylan, and, perhaps their biggest influence here, Tom Petty.
Price is a singer/songwriter, and many of her songs are autobiographical or confessional; but don’t come to Strays expecting lots of solo acoustic guitar. Musically, Strays is far and away Price’s most ambitious offering. Price produced the album with Jonathan Wilson (who also contributed everything from slide guitar to keyboards to castanets). Wilson has recently worked with Father John Misty and with Angel Olson, and clearly knows how to help an idiosyncratic artist realize their vision.
Strays’ musical texture is dominated by layered and swirling keyboards – piano, organs, synthesizers – primarily( and expertly) played by long-time Price band member Micah Hulscher. They give the album a lushness which is new for Price. It’s especially apparent on the album closer “Landfill,” where the rich sound so beautifully surrounds and supports Price’s singing. At the same time, Jeremy Ivy and Alex Munoz’s guitars give Strays a punch and propel the songs forward.
But Price’s voice is by far the most important instrument on Strays. Price has always been a compelling vocalist, but here she manages to sound like Judy Collins, Janis Joplin, Maranda Lambert and a score of others; while at the same time sounding absolutely unique. She is a powerful rock singer, capable of shouting with the best, like in the Joplinesqe (Janis, not Scott) “Light Me Up.” And her singing on the slower songs wrings every ounce of pathos out of her lyrics. I’m not sure I know a darker song than “Lydia,” which is written from the perspective of a woman at an abortion clinic thinking back on her life and her struggles (“White trash, trailer trash, they said you’d always be it / And you said, ‘one day you’ll see’/But lately you start to wonder if they were right”), and Price’s vocal is fittingly heartbreaking.
Although many of its songs are about profound topics — love, loss, recovery, and sexual pleasure (see “Light Me Up”) — Strays is far from morose. “Radio,” for example, is a perfect gem of a pop song, complete with catchy chorus (“Only thing I have on is the radio”). Co-written with, and featuring, Sharon Van Etten “Radio, like most of Strays, is a declaration of independence by Price (“People try to push me around/Change my face and change my sound/But I can’t hear them, I tuned them out”).
Price wrote and recorded Strays at the same time she was working on her candid, and powerful, memoir Maybe We’ll Make It. The two are companion pieces, illustrating the contrasting impact of a story told in prose and the same story told in song. The book, of course, has far more detail about Price’s life and struggles; but Strays hits harder, focusing less on the events which brought Price to this place in her life but rather on the emotions she felt along the journey.
Price recently told an interviewer that “there comes a point where you just have to say, ‘I’m going to be here, I’m going to enjoy it, and I’m not going to put so much stock into checking the boxes for everyone else…. I’m trying to find what my soul needs.” She does just that on Strays, producing an indelible album.
Strays is available for purchase in a variety of formats, you can stream or download it wherever you get your music. Margo Price is currently on her first headlining tour in five years, including some summer dates (many of which are already sold out) with Chris Stapleton.
Find more info and tour dates here: https://margoprice.net
Enjoy our review of Maybe We’ll Make It here: REVIEW: Margo Price “Maybe We’ll Make It”