On her debut album ‘Mid-West Farmer’s Daughter’ Margo Price described herself as an outcast who had been rejected by Nashville and the mainstream industry, eventually being forced to sell everything she had to just to make a record that no one wanted to release. After Jack White and Third Man Records signed her and propelled her to success that underdog narrative no longer applied. So for her second album All American Made she looked outward to issues facing her own nation, making political and feminist statements which led to Grammy nominations and further underlined her status as a modern Americana icon. Her new album ‘That’s How Rumors Get Started’ offers a glimpse into the musical and personal challenges that come in the wake of such career highs.
Country music influences are less pronounced on the album, embracing instead more classic rock and vintage soul sounds. It’s no surprise to me that she would evolve in this direction, although with Sturgill Simpson as producer it might seem to some like a little bit of a lost opportunity to double down on traditional country. However one listen to the record dispels any doubts for me, as the sound is absolutely gorgeous from start to finish. Sturgill brings out the best in Margo’s voice and, while it doesn’t rip a hole in the musical space time continuum like Sound and Fury, it’s a welcome evolution towards a more expansive sound.
I don’t think independent artists like Margo should feel any loyalty to country music anyway and I actually prefer to hear exactly what an artist wants to record, rather than contrived ideas of genre that they might feel pressured to conform to. Sure I love the classic country sound but it’s boring to do the same thing over and over – for artist and fan alike.
Plus for Margo this sound isn’t a stretch, and is similar to her previous band Buffalo Clover anyway – she is just melding her past into her present and future. However I do remember her saying something snarky at C2C about how her band played ‘real country music’ so I guess if she’s criticising others then she can’t be too upset if it’s turned back on her. For me as long as the music is good I don’t give a fuck what genre it is.
The album begins with the title track – a slow burn describing a crumbling friendship. Vocally she’s stronger than ever and the lush backing vocals add that layer of gorgeous shimmer, like the golden beauty of the album cover.
Letting Me Down is classic rock, a nod to Fleetwood Mac and the sixties sound, which complements her retro style. Everything builds towards the chorus, with some nice harmonies too and the guitar work really adds to the dramatic quality of this song. In the video she spins and dances round a decaying and abandoned room, reflecting the relationship she sings about.
Twinkle Twinkle owes a debt to her old boss Jack White with its bluesy White Stripes sound. It’s a heavier energy, becoming almost psychedelic at times and she pulls it off easily. Lyrically it takes us from dive bar to national TV: her ascent to the top is full of struggle and her conflicted feelings about this new life are made clear.
She takes this rumination on her career even further on lead song Stone Me, reflecting on the bruising nature of life in the spotlight. Even when you reach a level of success beyond your dreams nothing is easy, criticism is fierce and the fickle nature of the industry means you can’t rest on your laurels. I won’t forget what it’s like to be poor, I could be there again baby that’s for sure, she sings. For me that’s the best lyric on the album along with almost went broke just from paying dues. What makes her stand out as an artist and performer is this no bullshit, unapologetic honesty.
Hey Child is actually an old Buffalo Clover song, and the soulful, gospel feel suits her really well, with a genuinely beautiful message too. In contrast Heartless Mind rocks out and adds more distortion, showing her need to push in new directions.
What Happened to Our Love? is a truly epic song, her voice unravelling the painful truth of love – this and final song I’d Die for You really showcasing how strong a singer she is. Gone to Stay is sumptuous, with the soulful backing vocals again just sounding perfect. Lyrically the song deals with touring and the sacrifices of such separation from your ‘real life’, offering advice to the ones left behind.
Prisoner of the Highway equally celebrates and curses this life on the road, sure she’s unburdened from the shackles of everyday humdrum existence but the consequences are she can never escape her fate to roam free (well until a global pandemic sends you home to think again). But hey when the time comes this one will be a perfect encore celebration that gets everyone clapping badly out of time and raising a glass as they drunkenly sing along. Can’t bloody wait.
That’s How Rumors Get Started is a passionate, personal and powerful listen. It’s an honour to watch this artist grow and I hope she keeps raising hell for a long time to come.