by Melissa Caruso
I don’t love Margo Price simply because she’s saving country music, or because she can mesmerize an audience with a simple sway of the shoulder or scrunch of the nose. I don’t I love her because she's rejected the industry tropes that prescribe what an artist in 2017 should sing and say, or because she possesses a presence that threatens to bust the stage beneath her. I love Margo Price for all of these reasons - but mostly, because her songs remind us what it means to be human.
On Thursday night at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade, Margo Price and her band celebrated the release of her second album All American Made, one that weaves together the tattered and frayed threads of American tapestry and has garnered praise from veritable publications like The Washington Post and The New York Times. In a house packed with black leather and suede fringe, fans of this rising country revivalist had no trouble singing along to songs the band just started performing.
All American Made features songs weighed down by the sourness of a country gone wrong, be it the antithetical views of working women or the plights faced by the down-and-out. The title track is a poignant, personal song that retraces a childhood memory of when Price’s family lost their farm in Illinois. (“And my uncle started drinking when the bank denied the loan/But now it’s liver failure/And his Mad Cow’s being cloned/It’s all American made.”) At Rough Trade, Price and husband Jeremy Ivey’s acoustic performance transfixed the crowd; not a word was spoken, and not a single person looked at their phone. We were all taken to the bottom of her heavy heart. Or at least that’s how I remember it.
Photo: Fernando Garcia
Also on the album is “Learning to Lose,” a duet with Willie Nelson that could be said to apply to both of them. “I’m sorry Willie couldn’t be here to sing this one," Price told us. "That’s why you gotta get the record.” “Pay Gap,” a visceral number that depicts the antiquated aspects of a patriarchal society, it was as if she were singing to all the women who came before, her voice soaring. Equally as moving was “Wild Women” a defense for the working, traveling mothers who get snubbed for leaving their children at home. “It’s hard to be a mother, a singer, and a wife/But all the men they run around and no one bats an eye.”
After the show, I had the chance to speak to Price about her musical techniques. “I don't use capos very much; I haven’t for a lot of the time I’ve been playing because I wanted to be able to learn how to play up the neck and play bar chords.” But after having learned the chords, she started playing around with the capo “to write some different stuff, get some different kinds of feelings.” And that’s how that infectious little lick at the opening of “Cocaine Cowboys” came to be. The song scoffs at “blood shot eyes and cigarette teeth” of spurious guys donning shiny spurs who move from LA to Nashville and feign country without having ever ridden a horse. The track also showcases a sultry yodel, highlighting Price’s pipes. “I like doing the little yodel on it. It’s kind of fun,” she said outside Williamsburg’s honky tonk watering hole Skinny Dennis. Inside the bar, Price spun her own record collection which included tracks by Loretta Lynn, Neil Young, and Tyler Childers.
With a backing band whose influences are as varied as hers, Price encourages her bandmates to contribute original compositions and arrangements, so what we’re left with are encapsulations of the best sounds of roots music be it Wurlitzer master Micah Hulscher with his copious knowledge of piano greats (Bill Doggett), making way for interesting and full rhythm and blues melodies, or pedal steel player Luke Schneider with his penchant for country outlaw by way of Guy Clark. Collectively, their craft elevates them to a level of rare artistry, one that’s found them outgrowing the beloved ramshackle venues that nurture up and coming acts to bigger stages, bigger venues, bigger wheels. Come Friday morning, the band jumped on a 9:00AM flight to St. Paul, MN to play A Prairie Home Companion alongside Randy Newman, then will return to New York City to open for Tim McGraw and Faith Hill at the 19,000 capacity Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
If her debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter catapulted Price into the stars, All American Made puts her in place of the sun. “How does a lead singer change a lightbulb?” Jeremy Ivey asked the crowd in between tunings. “She does it and let’s the world revolve around her.”