Saturday, January 28, 2023

Review: Strays • Margo Price

A low bass hum fills the speakers. Shakers and a harpsichord warm up in the distance. Cymbals tap in anticipation. Then the electric guitar lick comes in: At that moment, when all the elements melt together on “Been to the Mountain,” it becomes very clear what kind of record Margo Price has crafted as her fourth release, Strays. Once carrying the torch of classic honky-tonk for the modern era, Price has reassessed her space in country music from a mountaintop vantage point: Composed and recorded amid headline-defining, dangerously cliché shroom-fueled trips into South Carolina and the Topanga Canyon, Strays stretches the most out of country music – daringly splitting its overtones into equal parts psychedelia, folk, and classic rock without losing its essence.

Whether it’s Dolly, Linda, or Joni, take your pick of any gentle soprano and she’ll likely be an appropriate comparison, if not reference point, for Price’s vocal approach. But in the songwriting for Strays, other influences compound with Buckingham-Nicks era Fleetwood Mac as Price plays both the observer and philosopher. When she isn’t reflecting on life’s fragility (“County Road”) or inevitable changes (“Hell in the Heartland”) in somber acceptance through country ballads, she reframes the sentiment through dynamic American soft rock (“Change of Heart,” “Light Me Up”). With these dynamic swings and even in spite of some overly long experiments and jam sessions, the album makes refreshingly fascinating use of the white spaces and endless skies of country music.

Strays is available now under Loma Vista Recordings.

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