3 albums, 26 tracks
Margo Price’s “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter” Evokes Both A Small Town And Big City Country Vibe, Plus So Much More
Is there anything this gifted girl can’t do? She sings, writes, plays acoustic guitar, piano, and drums. She even has a dancing background, but switched gears to concentrate her singer-songwriting efforts, through a band called Buffalo Clover with husband and guitarist Jeremy Ivey, and also Margo and the Pricetags, yet after building her name in the East Nashville scene and becoming known especially for her distinct voice, it seemed the time was write to really show the world her distinct spin on old fashioned music, be it Country, Country-Soul, Outlaw Country, and Americana, replete with biting social commentary about life’s hardships – in line with her reoccurring interest in the tough subjects, political and otherwise. I like this artist very much because she wants to make a progressive difference as much as she wants to revisit the sounds of the past, which is actually most evident in her newer album All American Made, which deals with the inherit inequality and hypocrisy displayed in gender relations. But on to the one that got it all crackin’ – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is phenomenal, and while a Country layman like myself might think Price’s voice lies dead smack between Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton, Margo Price has cited her biggest musical influences as being not only those aforementioned megastars of female Country singing, but musicians like Bonnie Raitt, Janis Joplin, Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams, and Bobby Gentry. Margo Price is from Aledo Illinois, which is on the other side of the state opposite Chicago, which qualifies the album title Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – and she certainly comes from a super small town, population 3460, which gives this record and it’s fabled content an authentic vibe. With that being said, through out the album, I feel that Soul, as in Country-Soul, is the standout style as far as I’m concerned. On a song like opener “Hands of Time”, I am swept up by the R&B leanings, which pervade lots of this material, even if certain tracks percussively lean towards bumping honky tonk arrangements. I wouldn’t say that Margo Price is attempting the same rough bluesy soul of Bonnie Raitt here, but she absolutely has something soulful going on.
Margo Price’s Songs, By And Large, Have Fascinating Stories Of Hardship, Handled Poetically
Dusty Springfield and her grooving number “Son of a Preacher Man” is what I am reminded of when listening to Margo Price’s perfect and similarly grooving “Hands of Time.” Additionally, in the same storied way, we are introduced to a real ‘character’ through song, coming to understand what she is, what makes her tick, and what her destiny will probably be. Already in love with the arrangement and instrumentation, I actually fall deeper in love with the lyrics and story. Price sings “times they were tough growing up at home / my daddy lost the farm when I was two years old / took a job at the prison working second shift / and that’s the last time I let them take what should be his.” The character, whether it is supposed to be Price or an amalgamation of several people, is determined to change her family’s fortunes, yet she is up against a little thing called reality; “cause all I want to do is make a little cash / cause I worked all the bad jobs bustin' my ass / I want to buy back the farm / and bring my mama home some wine / and turn back the clock on the cruel hands of time.” She joins a band in the city, but the pay isn’t great at all, and she falls for some seedy characters, including a boyfriend who turns out to be a thief. I am swept up in Price’s mesmerizing vocal approach – impossible not to tune in to, and especially love the new key she finds to sing along to on the rising and creative chorus, which itself collapses after all the ‘big talk’ of what the character is going to do, which is to change everything around her in order to reach her goal. No – rather, the notes fall, and Margo Price’s voice goes slightly discordant, closing out the hook with an almost Bob Dylan styled attitude, setting herself up for the next measure, and therefore - a next ‘try’ at change. Unfortunately, it all just gets worse, where she settles down with a married man, has babies of her own with him - but one dies, leading to a crisis of Faith in God, and all the while, she wonders why the hell is all this misfortune befalling her when she simply wanted to raise the appropriate cash to buy back the farm. In the end, she just wishes she could turn back the hands of time, which is wishful thinking, and I am left to speculate on the meaning of the lyrics, offering that perhaps it is about having your ‘own’ dreams in life, rather than trying to fix the ‘broken’ dreams of your loved ones. After all, her Daddy’s farm was lost when she was 2 years old – and this act should not have had so much bearing on her. She is sad of what became of her father’s legacy, but it was his to save or not save. Years later, she is still obsessed with the injustice. Another way of looking at the fable is that we all set out to do something a certain way, but Life really does take unexpected twists and turns that put you on a different course than the one you set out to follow.
Arrangements Are Tuned To The Seventies, And Perhaps Even Earlier
“How The Mighty Have Fallen” features a lo fi sound, but is obviously much bigger behind its retro settings, with swift string melodies putting an exclamation point on the hook whilst taking me back in time to a style and sound that was very common in the seventies. If you think about it, the song has excellent notes, yet could not be any simpler – and if this was just an arrangement featuring Margo Price’s voice and an acoustic guitar, it would be much more unmemorable I feel. Retro-ness is all over this album, with old school production qualities gracing literally every single song. “How The Mighty Have Fallen” evokes the past also by incorporating the same drum style made famous by Hal Blaine for Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound” designed track “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes – which puts it squarely in the time period of 1963. On “Tennessee Song”, one of the more traditional songs on the whole album, all the old fashioned production is there, plus the dual simplicity and complexity that so many songs from before 1980 tend to exhibit. At the same time, there is this very very subtle modernity, indicative of the awareness that Margo Price has for her vocals and the Blues Rock edge which accompanies this track. In the end, it truly is a bit of everything rolled into one – leading me to acknowledge that Price knows so much about tone in music, and how with just a few tweaks, it can be something grander than it’s era target or its ‘retro-ness’ in general. Because, after all, why would someone like me, who has respect for certain great eras and specific sub genre conventions in music, listen to a complete recreation of said styles, when I can just listen to the real thing on vinyl or cassette or CD, etc, to get that authentic sound on the one hand, and to additionally give due respect to the original creators. This is why Margo Price is someone truly special in the modern day – she adheres to the past, but has the taste and the musical knowledge to twist convention in the most subtle of ways. “Since You Put Me Down” is a real foot stomper and the perfect song to drink to, specifically if you have broken up with someone and rather than wallowing in melancholia, you can instead take the pain in small sips, living with your heartbreak but making sure to announce all of the proactive steps that have been taken to improve your chances of recovery, however cynical the remedies might me; “I killed the angel on my shoulder with a handle of tequila / so I wouldn't have to spend my nights alone, all alone / I killed the angel on my shoulder / since you left me for another / I've been trying to turn this broken heart to stone.” Could the culmination of these words and this instrumentation be any more throwback Honky Tonk. I think not – and it reminds all of humanity that sometimes it’s better to laugh at pain than to lose any more self respect.
Country Music Needs More Faultless Albums Today, Especially Ones That Speak Of The Realities Of The Human Psyche
Granted, much of Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is steeped in tradition, and that tradition equates to, in my opinion, the superior songwriting of the past. Nowhere on this album do I hear a direct rip off, really, of entire songs, or parts of songs, from back in the day, and this is therefore a testament to Margo Price’s abilities to use the musical math of the past to write new problems in the present. And boy, are these songs full of problems for subject matter. “Four Years of Chances” uses an open and closed hi hat to drive its Disco Rock styled point home – that making a home for a husband will no longer be possible after too many years of mistreatment and under appreciation. “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)“ is more ambiguous than most, but what is clear is that the narrator’s love life is so disastrous, all the whiskey in the bar couldn’t put a dent in the pain ‘he’ has caused her. This track has tough subject matter, again wrapped up in a light, fun dance beat. Very reality based concerns get deep on the twangy “Desperate and Depressed”, which highlight’s a real artists’ dilemma, as they are unable to let their guard up whilst playing music, and are susceptible to a little self hate in the process; “I've played for free and paid for / the miles on my truck / got no sleep in motels / ‘cause the worry keeps me up / It almost drives me crazy / thinking about my baby / and how he's gonna love me / if I'm desperate and depressed / can't get no rest.” Then again, there are sounds and song titles certainly that seem that they would be about problems, yet they are more about the fear of a problem, such as the track “World’s Greatest Loser”, where Price, quite matter of factly, since this song is neither happy nor sad, claims “There's not much here that means a thing / the house, the car, the diamond ring / and all of that, it seems so small / if I lost you I'd lose it all.” Thanks to genius song writing, this midwestern farmer girl has come a long way, proving to have both national and international demand and success.
Margo Price’s All American Made Is A 70’s Dive Bar Just Begging To Become A Tarantino Film
I’ve spent a good chunk of the last year or so defending the honour of Country music, old enough now to recognize the skillful showmanship of one of the industry’s oldest genres & cognizant enough to acknowledge that Country Pop barely scratches the surface of what melodic splendor you can find within this niche genre’s walls. When you set aside your preconceived notions of the gung-ho nationalism, stereotypical inbreeding & old-timey redneck values typically attributed to Country music, you’ll find some delightfully catchy compositions staring you right back in the face, whether that be the proudly-defiant sexual liberation of Dolly Parton’s younger years, the ripping guitar solos of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Rock’N’Roll aesthetics, the proto-Emo Folkiness of The Flying Burrito Brothers or the insanely raunchy tongue-in-cheek – butt-cheeks, that is – satirical Honky Tonk of Wheeler Walker Jr. from the modern era, easily accounting for some of the best & more influential music of all time – As I journeyed to expand my sonic horizons, a friend of mine steered me towards Margo Price & her most recent album All American Made, stating that she’d not only been nominated for a Grammy Award recently but that she was far & away a completely different creature than the Outlaw Country revivalists we’ve been getting lately like Chris Stapleton or Cody Jinks; Naturally, that was all the convincing I needed to give her music a try, which ended up being one of the best decisions I could’ve made this year as her whole aesthetic is absolutely phenomenal, carrying the spirit of sixties- & seventies-era Traditional Country music on her shoulders with immense pride & doing so even more skillfully than any of the artists I’d previously considered to be at the top of the anachronistic Country food-chain – You’re probably already a fan if you’re reading this Narrative right now, but on the off-chance you’re still waiting for the jury’s verdict on this one, prepare to have a fantastic musical experience.
I Want That Ol’ Fashioned Rock’N’Roll
Right from the jump, Margo Price ups the ante by delivering a record that seems to be disconnected from time itself, clearly recorded with the sonic-clarity & technical prowess of your average 2017 production yet consisting entirely of pitch-perfect recreations of the instrumental techniques & sonic profiles you’d have heard back in Country music’s seventies-era prime; I mean, if someone were to have slipped this record on in-between B-sides of Patsy Cline & Loretta Lynn whilst down at the local saloon, you’d likely have no idea Price was some 35-year old contemporary artist with a love for the oldies as her delivery on each & every track is nothing short of superb – For instance, give a listen to the album’s introductory number “Don’t Say It”: This track is packed to the gills with retro attitude from back when Country & Rock’N’Roll music were pretty much one & the same, what with its echoey reverb-laden room vocals, brittle pre-distortion-pedal electric guitar twang, Bluesy rhythm-section grooviness & Motown-inspired improvisational charm, carrying a lot of the same energy as songs like “It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll (But I Like It)” by The Rolling Stones back in ’74. Turn the page a bit & you’ll find more examples of this same happy-go-lucky yet totally reckless Rock youth aesthetic in tracks like the super funky “Cocaine Cowboys,” a tune that gives me distinct vibes of Blues Image’s thrilling “Ride Captain Ride” thanks to its warm Rhodes Piano riffing, jumpy percussion rhythms which constantly break up the silhouette of the song’s overall momentum & the relatively-Psychedelic nature of the lead guitar; Thrown in a narrative about free-wheelin’, drug-abusin’ cattle-wranglers & everything really starts to make sense – While many of today’s most prolific traditionalists certainly capture elements of Classic Country in their harrowing stories of heartbreak & small-town living, there’s honestly no-one aside from Price attempting this particular brand of historic Country composition as far as I’ve seen & it’s giving me life!
The Second Coming Of Parton
As I’d mentioned a little earlier, one of the most iconic voices in the classic definition of Country music was & surprisingly still is Dolly Parton; She was a revolutionary performer who sought to combat the rampant sexism & bigotry of the hyper-masculine mid-century American scene by embracing all the negative criticisms directed towards the sexual-liberation of women at the time, delivering fantastic Honky Tonk, Gospel & Bluegrass jams that were second to none, not to mention she could give two fucks what anyone thought about her outward image, proudly brandishing her sex appeal in risqué fashion in what many considered to be a shock-value focused gimmick – As if picking up the torch for a more politically-progressive generation of feminist musicians, Margo Price capitalizes on the trends Parton set by engaging in a similarly empowering style which captures her predecessor’s aesthetic beautifully. If you look at songs like “Pay Gap,” this trailblazing femininity is in full-display as Price openly discusses the difficulties of trying to survive in today’s day & age when you’re facing a losing battle just trying to make an honest living, women somehow still struggling to make ends meet in a world where men typically make considerably more money for the same amount of work, actively campaigning to maintain the status-quo with legislation that keeps working-conditions as uneven as possible for both women & minorities. She absolutely eviscerates this system in a few scathing lines, defiantly stating ‘we are all the same in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of rich white men? No more than a maid to be owned like a dog, a second-class citizen,’ instantly making her progressive opinions crystal-clear to a demographic who still hold on to the backwards gender ideals of yesteryear – If that’s not enough for you to grasp Price’s standpoint on today’s political climate, numbers such as “Weakness” give a decidedly jaunty hoedown rendition of these same issues & the brilliant “Wild Women” breaks things down even further, talking about how frustrating it is struggling to keep a family together as a multi-tasking working woman trying to prove yourself whilst the men in your community galivant around town lazily as if they’re owed the right to have an easier life than their female counterparts, Price fawning over the ‘wild women’ who’re so sure of themselves that they can afford to ignore the rampant inequality of the world since they’re comfortable with gaming the system that sees them as sexual objects.
These Americana Roots Run Deep
I’ve said it before & I’ll say it again, but Country music & even Rock music itself would be nothing if it weren’t for the incredible contributions the African American community made to music in the last 300 years, as Gospel, Blues, Jazz, Rock, Pop, Electronic music, R&B & Country were all borne of Black culture. While many modern iterations of popular music try to diminish this history by changing up the formula ever-so-slightly in an effort to ‘invent’ new forms of music, the best Country music of all time always holds true to these origins as a tool to express the innate American – read: Black – charm of music’s roots; Think the gospel vocal accompaniment of all your favourite David Bowie tracks from the sixties or the entirety of classic Rock’N’Roll music – Ever the studious musician, Margo Price embodies this spiritual Americana vibe throughout the majority of All American Made, telling whimsical stories of a drifting heart chasing the ‘American Dream’ in songs like “Do Right By Me” whilst accompanied by warbling choral harmonies, bouncy Blues guitar grooves & punchy drum sequences that could’ve been on the soundtrack to The Wonder Years or any number of Atomic Age retrospective serials; She did, after all, dedicate this album to her idol Tom Petty following his death, citing his body of work as the prime inspiration for the songs she’d provide within it, so it only makes sense that a more classic & somewhat-cynical view of American culture would permeate its very being – I’m astonished at how moved I’ve been by recent developments in the Country community, as I’m typically more of a Metal & Electronica type of guy, but as the industry-at-large shifts ever further into a pit of monotonous electronic production with pretty much everyone churning out track after track of trendy, formulaic garbage, rare gems like Margo Price’s All American Made are giving me faith that real musicianship is still lurking out there in the shadows just waiting for its chance to shine.
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