Margo Price review – life-affirming misery from Nashville's gutsy new star

Scala, London
Price is a country traditionalist who turns the hard-luck stories of her life into irresistably vivid and vibrant music

If setbacks and tragedy are the lifeblood of country music, Margo Price is spoilt for source material. But drawing on frequently bleak autobiographical subject matter, this new Nashville star makes music that is irresistibly vibrant and life affirming.

Price recently topped the US country chart with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, a debut album that she reportedly pawned her wedding ring to make. The record was rejected by 30 labels before becoming the first country release on Jack White’s avowedly analogue Third Man label.

It’s easy to see why White loved the album’s gutsy, lo-fi directness. There is nothing avant garde about Price, a determined country traditionalist taking inspiration from Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and, unmistakably, Loretta Lynn – her album title is a hat-tip to one of Lynn’s most talismanic records, 1970’s Coal Miner’s Daughter.

Live, the petite Price is a charming, charismatic force of nature, her vivid and yearning voice all twang and tremor. She uses it to devastating effect on Hands of Time, a steel pedal-driven trawl through a personal history that takes in family poverty, losing a son, and a subsequent lost spell of heavy drinking that acquainted her with the insides of police cells.

Margo Price

Her five-piece band has an easy proficiency born of a decade paying their dues on the Nashville circuit, yet all eyes are drawn to Price. She is tremendous at delivering spirited shoeings to no-good men: “You wouldn’t know class if it bit you on the ass” she spits at a departing paramour on About to Find Out, while Four Years of Chances is a musical curled lip of disdain.

This waspish wit means that Price never lapses into lachrymose sentimentality, although she is understandably affected when joined on stage by her album’s producer, Alex Munoz, who has today emerged clean from a lengthy course of cancer treatment. As she closes her set with the raucous roustabout of Hurtin’ (On the Bottle), a regret-laden tale of “drinking whisky like it’s water”, Margo Price seems to be just revving up.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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