Just four years ago Margo Price was a relatively unknown, hardworking Nashville singer-songwriter still looking for a break. But that changed with the release of her debut album, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” which came out in 2016 on Jack White’s Third Man Records label. In a crowded field of roots revivalists, Price stood out for her refreshingly authentic take on a true country sound that often feels left behind.
With a voice both sweet and strong, in the vein of iconic predecessors like Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn, and a sturdy band adept at blending honky-tonk, dusty rock and soul, Price earned critical praise and built a fast following of fans taken with her startlingly honest, autobiographical songcraft. “Hands of Time,” from her first album, detailed the economic hardship she endured growing up in small-town Illinois and the tragic loss of her son; and “Learning to Lose,” a duet with Willie Nelson from Price’s sophomore album, “All-American Made,” is a poignant ballad about accepting fallibility.
Following a whirlwind breakout period that found Price playing Saturday Night Live and singing with John Prine and Kris Kristofferson, she was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy Award in 2018.
In July, Price released her latest album, “That’s How Rumors Get Started,” which, sonically, is an edgy detour from the Americana and country styles that were her early calling cards. The record was produced by her friend and fellow Music City agitator Sturgill Simpson, who encouraged Price to embrace a dynamic rock sound and some studio experimentation. To make the album she traveled to Los Angeles to cut tracks at EastWest Studios, where the Beach Boys made “Pet Sounds” and Parton recorded “9 to 5.”
While making the album, she was pregnant with her daughter, who was born last year, and Price said that helped give her a clear vision of the record’s direction. “They’re both a creation process,” Price said, of having a child and crafting a new album. “And I was being really good to my body and my mind during that time. I had a lot of clarity from sobriety.”
Lyrically, she gets into the nitty gritty of relationship dynamics, as she channels Tom Petty’s heartland rock on “Letting Me Down” and embraces a synth-heavy dance groove on the standout “Heartless Mind.”
The new album’s heaviest track, “Twinkle, Twinkle,” marches forward with stomping distortion, with Price once again singing about her humble upbringing and how tough it is to navigate the music industry’s rocky landscape. “If it don’t break you,” she sings, “It might just make you rich.”
For Price, perseverance without compromise has paid off.
Hands of Time
The stunning lead track from Price’s breakout debut, “Midwest Farmer’s Daughter,” unravels as a memoir of personal tragedies, from her family’s economic hardship to the death of her newborn son.
Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)
Another standout from Price’s first album, “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)” revives a classic honky-tonk sound and the genre’s age-old trope of trying to cure a broken heart with hard drinking.
A choice cut from Price’s 2017 sophomore album, “All-American Made,” the song rambles peacefully with shades of easy-going Tejano country, but lyrically it’s a heartfelt protest of the pervasive problem of gender wage inequality.
A Little Pain
Price delivers another track about overcoming hard times, but this one comes via vintage soul with a jangly groove and the starry-eyed sweetness of old-school R&B.
This twangy take-down of a town phony—found on the 2017 “Weakness” EP—starts as a loping country tune before spiraling into a funky, psychedelic jam at the conclusion. It’s snapshot of the adventurous edge of Price’s live shows with her ace band, the Pricetags.
A best example of how Price moved beyond her country leanings with the new album “That’s How Rumors Get Started,” this hard-hitting fuzz-rock scorcher features a cautionary message about the costs of success.
Price offers a revelatory version of this Creedence classic on the May-released live album “Perfectly Imperfect at the Ryman,” which culls highlights from Price’s three-night stand at the legendary Nashville venue and features guests appearances by Emmylou Harris, Jack White and Sturgill Simpson. This release is only available via Bandcamp.