Album Review: Margo Price – Strays

To stray is to go off the beaten path, wandering without a home, scratching survival on your own terms.

No surprise then that Margo Price would name her new album ‘Strays’, since she has embraced that identity since the beginning of her career. In her recent memoir Maybe We’ll Make It she underlined how hard she’d worked to remain a stray – to never compromise the vision she had for her music.

Her three solo albums established her as an Americana queen who brought grit and glamour to an otherwise boring and safe genre. What really catapulted her to major success was rooted in her past in dance: she knew how to perform live in inventive and intensely engaging ways. On stage this stray found her home.

So then what happens to an artist like Margo when a pandemic forces you off the road? Not one to be kept down for long, she turned her gaze inward, got sober, wrote her life story, reasserted herself and began the process of pushing her musical boundaries on this new album.

Part of that process involved a writing session where she holed herself up with her husband and some psychedelics, like those classic sixties rebels who inspired her to become a musician in the first place. Margo follows that trippy lineage on opening track ‘Been to the Mountain’ where vocally she sounds freer, looser than ever before. The song includes a section which almost sounds like a vocal breakdown, a primal scream inspired by Patti Smith and the punk rock spirit. Being up against it has helped Margo to smash through to a new revelation.

Light Me Up is a celebration of female sexual liberation, worshipping the divine feminine with some truly stunning guitar work, courtesy of Mike Campbell. Another guest, Sharon Van Etten, makes an appearance on ‘Radio’, a brilliant indie pop song about escaping from stress, ignoring the haters and losing yourself in music, with a slyly sexy nod to Marilyn Monroe in the central refrain.

Lead single ‘Change of Heart’ is a powerful rock song about accepting your contrary nature, becoming one of the first radio successes in her career. ‘County Road’ is dedicated to a lost friend, about the erosion of time and the nature of change since his death.

As a way to lighten the mood ‘Time Machine’ takes us into a more euphoric space with a classic girl group style pop song, before the album turns back to the dark side with Hell in the Heartland, an introspective take on her vices. Anytime You Call, features Lucius and was written by her partner Jeremy Ivey about their marriage.

Lydia takes us back to the social justice themes of her All American Made album, using the story of a woman seeking an abortion to expose the rotting underbelly of her country. Bleak, almost without melody, its a shocking listen on first instance but that starkness is its power.

It takes time to be timeless, Margo sings on the final song Landfill. On this evidence she’s more than on her way to achieving that goal.

Buy Strays here:

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