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🌵 Desert Sessions 🌵 2.0: Margo Price – Strays

January 24, 2023
Margo Price

Strays is Margo Price’s best album. That is saying a lot as she has been a three album roll since her 2016 debut on Third Man Records (Midwest Farmer’s Daughter). That album was pure country (almost retro), but with each successive album, she has evolved away from that sound to a more classic rock sound. On Strays she takes that classic rock sound to a new place: a hybrid of 80s New Wave and 70s Country Rock with a psychedelic twist – it is actually pretty hard to categorize. I hear so many influences, yet those influences are neither appropriation nor imitation, but inspiration. It is psychedelic without being nonsensical – she manages to be a hippie without being dippy.

Just as her career was getting some traction, the pandemic hit. She did not let COVID overwhelm her, instead, she finished and published a memoir, quit drinking and recorded and released Strays. The album narrative for Strays is that Margo and her husband/musical partner (Jeremy Ivey) took a psychedelic trip in 2020 and that was the creative spark for the songs they wrote for Strays. As a bonus, the psilocybin inspired Margo to quit alcohol (she is now two years alcohol sober, but she still enjoys weed and psychedelics).

What influences do I hear on Strays?

  • Patti Smith
  • Tom Petty
  • George Harrison
  • Linda Ronstadt
  • The Moody Blues
  • Joni Mitchell
  • Father John Misty (not surprising given producer Jonathan Wilson)
  • Fleetwood Mac/Stevie Nicks
  • Rosanne Cash

I hear so many influences, yet those influences are neither appropriation nor imitation, but inspiration. It is psychedelic without being nonsensical – she manages to be a hippie without being dippy.

Producer Jonathan Wilson is the perfect sonic complement to Margo’s psilocybin-influenced songwriting. They took the classic rock sound that Margo and Sturgill Simpson produced That’s How Rumors Get Started (2020) and perfected it. It is now as slick (in a good way) as a Fleetwood Mac or Tom Petty album. Strays sounds confident and fully realized. Margo has evolved on each record; I believe this is the best version of herself.

“Been To The Mountain” was the first single and the opening track. I am an album guy and so I rarely listen to the teaser tracks, but I did listen to this one and it definitely caught my ears and foreshadowed that this was going to be a special album. I have seen some reviews that suggest the song has a Janis Joplin feel, but I don’t hear it; instead, I hear Patti Smith fronting the Moody Blues.

“Light Me Up” features Mike Campbell (Tom Petty) and it is epic. I know Margo is a Petty fan and she makes his sound her own – similar to how Stevie Nicks successfully “stole” Petty’s vibe. This is a wonderful example of Jonathan Wilson’s production genius.

“Radio” features singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten in this brilliant cocktail of 80s new wave and folk rock. Imagine if The Cars and The Eagles got together to back up Linda Ronstadt.

“Change Of Heart” continues the New Wave/Country Rock vibe. I could easily hear Tom Petty covering this song.

“County Road” has a nice mid-70s Linda Ronstadt vibe mixed with a countrified Fleetwood. The song opens with a beautiful Joni-inspired piano intro. Lyrically it imagines an old friend who never had a car who is now passed, but now has wheels in the afterlife.

“Time Machine” has a playful Kacey Musgraves vibe. This is the only song on the album not penned by Margo – it was written by Chris Denney & Dillon Napier (Margo’s drummer).

“Hell In The Heartland” is Rosanne Cash meets Fleetwood Mac.

“Anytime You Call” features Lucius and has a George Harrison feel.

“Lydia” was the second teaser single and is a mournful narrative of a woman’s visit to an abortion clinic. Sonically it is the most austere track on the album. The simplicity of the arrangement makes it better – a busy arrangement would have overshadowed the raw beauty of the song. Lyrically it is like a feature movie.

“Landfill” is Margo’s strongest and most impressive vocal on the album – coupled with the arrangement it is a gorgeous track. The last track is a wistful life-to-date self-reflection and the perfect end of the album.

This is a magnificent evolution of a recording artist: great songs, great performance, and great sonics (production). What an album to open 2023! I can’t wait to see/hear this live on the “Til the Wheels Fall Off Tour.”


From → Music Reviews

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