Midwest Farmer’s Daughter
Third Man Records
There’s a lot of hype around Margo Price’s debut full-lengther arriving, as it does, with a title that is supposed to (perhaps arrogantly) line her up next to the Loretta Lynn of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” fame and with lyrics like “Maybe I’d be smarter if I played dumb” there’s a touch of Dolly Parton’s wisdom too. She doesn’t just align herself with these giants of the form through affectation or hope or hearsay-influence it is absolutely there in her sound; right from the phrasing and timbre of the voice – as well as the subject matter – of the album’s mini-epic opener, Hands of Time, which recalls her biographical highlights (meaning the rock-bottom of course – a stint in jail, bad deals gone even more wrong and the hope to buy back the family farm). There’s a look of Bobbie Gentry here, and a few cutesy string arrangements that recall Bacharach’s work with Dusty Springfield – it’s been done so correctly but as with Sturgill Simpson the hope here is around turning it all inside out, recasting country music not merely replicating it.
At 32, and with a decade of bar-room practice behind her Price is in fine voice and the writing is decent – often very strong. This speeds past accomplished debut and feels like it’s on its way to near-classic.
So what’s wrong? Well, her band, The Price-Tags, have no swing and if she wants to get anywhere near Bobbie Gentry-land a little southern soul and grit will need to be applied.
I love a lot of this album though – shades of Lucinda Willliams’ writing, the hope that with the right team of musicians she could kick arses like Lyle Lovett, the worry that she could be urged to “go more pop” after this (geez I hope not).
Four Years of Chances has all the right moves, swagger and stomp and sass, but there’s something too clean about the playing – it needs dirtying up. Price’s voice is fantastic, there’s grit in the writing too, not just in her vocal delivery, but the band lets her ever so slightly down. It’s nit-picking of course. Someone else will tell you the fiddle and steel on This Town Gets Around is beaut but it feels like a show-band version of country to me and this subject matter and singing deserves swagger. Put the Drive-By Truckers behind her or Lovett’s band and you’d really have a contender for the best album of the year.
Maybe that’ll be next year?
We can hope.
Meanwhile – Margo Price is one of the great new finds of 2016. I love this record. And listen to it a lot. I just hope she kicks on from here. As it sounds like she’s been giving it her all for a decade or more already. There’s hurt in her heart and anger in her soul and she’s channelled that into something beautiful but maybe just a bit too purty.