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Margo Price: Strays

By Melanie Broussalian

In a world where country music continually pedals the “pickup truck and tequila” narrative, Nashville songstress Margo Price dares to do things differently and unapologetically her way. Her fourth album, Strays, sets an immediately confident tone with the opening lyric in “Been to the Mountain”—“I got nothing to prove, I got nothing to sell, I’m not buying what you got.” The age of the well-behaved, perfectly prim and traditionally desirable female singer has ended. In this sprawling 10-song record, Price is embracing her feral freedom and invites those brave enough to join her.

Sonically, Strays is her most rock-forward body of work yet, resembling contemporaries, such as Jenny Lewis and Angel Olsen, and honoring those who have come before her, like Stevie Nicks and Chrissie Hynde. “Light Me Up” is an epic homage to Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac, with Mike Campbell lending his distinctive sound on guitar.

Collaboration is the name of the game across Strays: “Radio” features BTT-favorite Sharon Van Etten, and the ever-dreamy band Lucius adds their signature haunting background vocals to “Anytime You Call.” While consistently referential to ’70s psychedelic rock, Price and producer Jonathan Wilson (who has worked with Angel Olsen and Father John Misty among excellent solo projects) are able to create something updated and fresh with the deliberate use of synths and programmed drums. Price’s knack for storytelling is best showcased at the album’s midpoint, “County Road,” which recounts her close relationship with someone who passed in a fatal car crash in evocative detail, like how they used to listen to Warren Zevon together on long drives.

Never one to shy away from telling unsavory stories about her past, “Hell in the Heartland” directly addresses Price’s struggle with substance abuse; but as a listener, you can feel through the song’s increasing tempo that she’s come through on the other side.

Slated toward the end of the album, “Lydia” is a somber, almost spoken-word ala Johnny Cash epic piece about abortion rights and the apocalyptic opioid crisis plaguing the U.S. The song is orchestrated sparsely with Price on guitar and Wilson deftly bringing strings in and out to puncture her stark narrative. Both Strays and Strays II, a follow-up with an additional nine B-sides, were recorded live, and that magic is evident throughout both records.

Strays finishes with the mellow “Landfill,” which Price describes as “a little bit of clarity and a little bit of peace.” It shouldn’t go unnoted that the very last word of the album is “love.” It’s a sentiment felt throughout the record, both lyrically and sonically, which was crafted with equal parts wild abandon and sensitive care.

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