5 Takeaways From Margo Price’s New Album ‘Strays’

Jonathan Wilson produced the 10-track album that came out today on Loma Vista Recordings.

By Andy Kahn Jan 13, 2023 6:45 am PST

In Summer 2020, Margo Price and her fellow singer-songwriter husband Jeremy Ivey rented a house in South Carolina. Shortly after returning to their home near Nashville, Ivey recounted the experience in an interview for The JamBase Podcast:

“We took a trip – I guess now it’s been a couple of weeks – and Margo’s mom and her sister watched the kids and we went to Charleston and got an Airbnb. We just stayed in the house and we were gonna work on her next record. We ate some mushrooms … We had a conversation when we had some mushrooms and 11 songs came from that conversation … It’s something that you can’t force and can’t take for granted.”

Several of those songs ended up on the tracklist of Strays, Price’s new album that arrived today on Loma Vista Recordings. The record is Price’s fourth since her impressive debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter came out on Third Man Records in 2016. She followed in 2017 with her second LP, All American Made, which like her debut was co-produced by Matt Ross-Spang and Alex Munoz and released by TMR.

Price tapped Sturgill Simpson to produce her Loma Vista debut, 2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started. That album was recorded pre-pandemic in Los Angeles with a band assembled by Simpson of ace players including guitarist Matt Sweeney, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer James Gadson and keyboardist Benmont Tench.

Price returned to California in 2021 to record the bulk of Strays at producer Jonathan Wilson’s Fivestar Studios in Topanga Canyon (additional tracking was done in Nashville and L.A.). The 10-track album is Price continuing to diversify her sonic palette, just as she did on her previous album, concocting her own blend of psychedelic Americana funk rock paired with raw and vividly poetic lyrics.

Price’s longtime backing band the The Pricetags were part of the sessions. Featured guests on Strays include Sharon Van Etten, Mike Campbell and Lucius.

Price will soon embark on the ‘Til The Wheels Fall Off Tour in support of Strays. The tour will see Price headlining more than 30 dates including Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, New York’s Webster Hall, Los Angeles’ Fonda Theatre and more.

Scroll down to read five initial takeaways from Margo Price’s new album, Strays.

Price Didn’t Need Liquid Courage

“Two years ago, I took a mushroom trip that convinced me to give up booze,” Price recently shared on Instagram. “Drinking and being the bad girl had become such a big part of my identity. I was worried I would be alienated from my friends and society but it was one of the best decisions I ever made. It has changed my life immensely, and I’m not looking back.”

Price may have gotten liquid courage from alcohol in the past but her decision to give up drinking did not prevent her from holding anything back on Strays. Lyrically, Strays presents often blunt depictions of real-life situations, magnifying the struggles and challenges of day-to-day life. There’s the resilient nostalgic acceptance found in the opening track “Been To The Mountain,” the unabashed lustfulness of “Light Me Up,” the scenic depiction of rural grief in “County Road” and the standout “Lydia,” a song that became all too prescient and relevant after the Supreme Court overturned Roe Vs. Wade last summer.

Price wrote the song years prior, exploring a character who is pregnant and facing hard times. Price quickly wrote the song’s seven verses, touching on aspects of healthcare, poverty and addiction. Price explained the genesis of “Lydia,” which features haunting strings arranged by Drew Erickson, stating:

“I wrote ‘Lydia’ in one sitting in a tiny hotel room after walking around the city of Vancouver one day. I was jet lagged and feeling really depressed, hopeless, but instead of taking a nap, I picked up the guitar and the words just flowed out all in one quick moment. I hit record on my phone to make a demo and sort of blacked out or went into this meditative state, and boom – eight minutes later, I had this song. It’s one of the only songs I’ve ever written that doesn’t have any real melody or even rhyme, but somehow it still works. Songs like that are rare and don’t come often.

“It was inspired by a cacophony of things. There was a women’s health clinic and a methadone clinic with a needle exchange right outside of our venue. I was looking into the eyes of the people I passed and thinking about their stories and really being a conduit for pain.

“The song feels like a premonition now, with women’s rights being stripped and all the abortion bans happening. When I listen back, I hear what might go through a woman’s mind when she has a difficult decision to make about her body, her choices and her future.”


The Jonathan Wilson Effect

Price’s decision to work with Jonathan Wilson was a fruitful one. Wilson’s production credits since 2021 alone include Billy Strings, Dawes, Angel Olsen, Father John Misty and Erin Rae. Adding Price to the mix furthers Wilson’s on-demand status as one of the sharpest ears of anyone making records. Wilson’s Topanga Canyon recording facility provides a scenic and serene environment — a place for artists to be artists.

Wilson’s typically subtle but impactful style is felt throughout Strays. There’s a continuity to the vibe. The expansive sonics allow for atmospheric space while never drifting too far from a song’s core. Wilson’s no stranger to twang and there’s plenty of it across Strays draped in sizzling synthesizers and fuzzed-out guitars.

Wilson can be heard on a variety of instruments – synthesizers, percussion, slide guitar, timpani drum, Moog bass – on several of the album’s tracks. Vocalist Ny Oh, one of Wilson’s frequent collaborators, harmonizes beautifully with Price on “Country Road” and the album closer “Landfill” (coincidentally a verse in “Landfill” mentions “muscadine wine” and one of Wilson’s early band’s was called “Muscadine”).

The Return Of The Pricetags

That’s How Rumors Got Started was recorded with absolute virtuoso musicians assembled by Sturgill Simpson and the impeccable musicianship was evident throughout. On Strays Price is backed by her ride-or-dies The Pricetags – drummer Dillon Napier, bassist Kevin Black, guitarist Jamie Davis and keyboardist Micah Hulscher – who may not have the pedigree of Sweeney, Tench, Palladino and Gadson, but do have years of chemistry and are quality players in their own right.

Wilson captured a band that’s so tight they can play loose and that’s exactly what comes across on Strays. Price sounds comfortable with her cohorts and the familiarity of the other musicians fits well with the infusion of new and different textures and tones.

Anytime You Call ft. Lucius

Suburb & Tasteful Guest Contributions

In addition to Wilson and The Pricetags, a few guests appear on Strays, adding significant and interesting components and doing so in a way that did come across as forced or gimmicky.

Sharon Van Etten co-wrote “Radio” with Price and the track is among the most memorable on Strays. The song and its arrangement are a perfect example of Price’s ongoing evolution, with elements that sound different from almost anything else she’s recorded.

Price also tapped renowned guitarist Mike Campbell for the fiery “Light Me Up.” Campbell’s electrifying tone is instantly recognizable and his playing typically tasteful. After Tench’s appearance on Rumors, Price has now gone back-to-back with albums featuring members of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Vocalists Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of Lucius – who have recently performed alongside Wilson as members of Roger Waters’ touring band – shimmer behind Price on “Anytime You Call.” Ivey wrote the song and plays bass and guitar on the recording. The heartfelt tale of commitment in the face of challenging circumstances is bolstered by the captivating and soothing blending of Wolfe and Laessig’s voices.

Additionally, Dexter Green co-produced and played drums on “Anytime You Call,” vocalists Lily Elise and Anna Bowery can be heard on “Hell In The Heartland,” which was co-written by Price and Lawrence Rothman who also produced and engineered the track, and the strings on “Lydia” were performed by cellist Jacob Braun, viola player Zach Dellinger and violinists Andrew Bullbrook and Wynton Grant.

Time Is Of The Essence

As mentioned above, Price’s lyrics on Strays are vibrant depictions of real life and shared experiences that make her music accessible and relatable. She’s made a name for herself with a no-bullshit-taking attitude and the chops to back it up.

The new album builds on those past storylines that paint vibrant pictures and expose sometimes harsh truths. With her fourth full-length album, Price shows an expected maturity and evolved worldview colored by the wisdom gained with getting a little older and the perspective that comes with it.

One of the lyrical themes that repeatedly surfaces across Strays is the concept of time as it relates to both the past, present and future. “Time Machine” encompasses all three elements, “Been To The Mountain” is an inventory of past behavior, “Radio” contemplates taking time off and breaking away from the daily grind, “County Road” is a tragic nostalgia trip, “Anytime You Call” considers unknown challenges, “Hell In The Heartland” is a reflective life audit and “Landfill” closes the album with the insightful lyric, “They say ‘it takes time to become timeless.’”

Time will tell if Strays becomes timeless, but for now, it serves as an important addition to Price’s body of work.


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