Margo Price – ‘Strays’ review: a defiant spin on earnest Americana songwriting

With psychedelic rock sensibilities and wholehearted lyricism, Price’s fourth album hits on the human experience where it hurts

Holed up in Charleston, South Carolina for six days with a fair bit of magical mushrooms, notebooks, guitars, and enough experiences to fill multiple lifetimes, Margo Price got to work penning some of the most defiant and raw songs of her career. Joined by her husband and co-songwriter Jeremy Ivey, away from the distractions of their home in Nashville, Tennessee, her fourth studio album ‘Strays’ came to form, a 10-track treatise on the human condition with stories that run the gamut from substance abuse to abortion rights and the female orgasm.

Price says she wanted the album to “feel like a lifetime or a 10-hour hallucination where you remember everything again”, and as the psychedelic organ creeps in on the first track right before the words “I’ve got nothing to prove / I’ve got nothing to sale” chime in, you can assume she’s hit the mark. Opener ‘Been To The Mountain’ plays well as a warning for the songs that follow, especially as Price urges “take your best shot” wildly in a spoken-word refrain that doesn’t come off as a threat but as a loud disclosure of her recently found resilience.

Where her last album, 2020’s ‘That’s How Rumors Get Started’ shifted slightly away from Price’s country foundations into classic rock territory, ‘Strays’ travels even deeper, leading with guitar and scaling down the twang while still keeping her heartfelt Americana vocals intact. The best moments in the album show off Price’s ability to detail the messy and beautiful aspects of human existence while writing about what hurts and still somehow bringing levity to the story. On ‘Radio’, she’s joined by Sharon Van Etten as the pair pontificates on the industry around them, singing “People try to push me around / Change my face and change my sound”, but then bringing in a lightness at the chorus as they jest, “Only thing I have on is the radio”. On ‘Light Me Up’, an explicit lullaby about “losing yourself in sex” sounds like it was lifted straight from the ‘70s, with acoustic guitars that go full tilt at the bridge.

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But there are also moments where Price highlights harder things, like ‘Lydia’ where she writes from the perspective of a woman addicted to drugs, pregnant, and faced with the difficult decision of whether or not to raise a child. There’s also the funk-laden ‘Change Of Heart’ which sees the songwriter surrendering to the world around her and choosing to let go of some well-earned anger.

The Grammy Award-winning artist’s latest LP isn’t made to fit neatly into album award categories, but in songs like the heartbreaking ‘Anytime You Call’ where Price’s vocals and arrangements linger somewhere in the sweet spot between country, indie rock and retro pop, you get the feeling that was never the plan anyway. It’s sonically brave and lyrically obstinate, a rare delight that stands out from its counterparts. In a world where songs are made to go viral and albums are created to fit neatly into boxes, we’re lucky Price is a stray.

Details

Margo Price
Margo Price ‘Strays’ album artwork

  • Release date: January 13
  • Record label: Loma Vista Recordings
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