Margo Price is conductor of the alt-country hype train right now. Coming off well-received showcases at SXSW and Conan O’Brien, billed as “country’s next star,” and headed for an SNL debut, she’s hitting a huge win streak. You’ve got your Top-40 country set, and then you’ve got your semi-alternative sphere where the Jason Isbells of the world thrive. Multiple outlets are calling that indie world a “boys club,” but now it has a new female icon to champion.
Her debut solo album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, is already #10 on the US Country charts. And it’s not too surprising, as she hits all the perfect subjects: drinkin’ followed by its consequences (“Weekender”), the Loretta Lynn breakup staple sentiment of ‘You blew it, you no-good-son-of-a-gun’ (“How the Mighty Have Fallen”, “Four Years of Chances”), and the combination of the two: drinkin’ to numb the pain of a breakup with a no-good-son-of-a-gun (“Hurtin’ On the Bottle”, “Since You Put Me Down”).
There are real gems in here, though. Namely, when she writes about her specific, real-life hardships that fall outside country’s exhausted ‘lost my dog/truck/woman’ tropes. Getting chronically shafted in her earlier career took a toll on the singer, putting the chip on her shoulder seen throughout “Desperate and Depressed” and “This Town Gets Around,” all of which give her plenty of bite:
But all that backstabbing couldn’t have stung nearly as much as losing one of her newborns in “Hands of Time,” a tragedy that caused her to curse her bad luck, and “cry out to God/Is there anybody looking down on [her] at all?” The rest of that song sounds like a country cliché, but in her defense, that was her life growing up. Her father really did “lose the farm,” and, as they say, ‘write what you know.’ But, especially on “Four Years of Chances,” that makes her sound like a carbon copy of her influences (namely Lynn, as well as Dolly Parton).
Perhaps the real issue is that country music as a whole could use to evolve more, especially from a sonic perspective. There’s nothing here that would be out of place on a 60s country record. Her lyrical story is far more interesting than other beaten-and-bruised personas — including similar-lauded Isbell — but every boom-chuck beat is just pure, classically stagnant Nashville.
But hey, maybe I’m just not the right person to have reviewed this. Maybe country should never evolve musically because it’s supposed to be a storyteller’s genre. That’s for fans to decide.