On 13th January 2023, Margo Price released her fourth studio album, Strays. The ten-track album, recorded at Fivestar Studio and produced by Price and Jonathan Wilson back in the summer of 2021, is the follow-up to 2020’s That’s How Rumors Get Started, and gives the listener something of an insight into Price’s psyche.
If you don’t want a blow-by-blow explanation of this reviewer’s opinion, skip to the last paragraph. If you do, enjoy.
The album kicks off with Been To A Mountain. This song – which starts with the lyric “I got nothin’ to prove” – sets the tone of the album well. The retro style draws you in and the lyrics keep you listening for more.
Light Me Up is next. It features the guitar playing of Mike Campbell – best known for his membership of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers – and continues the retro stylings. The intro has elements of John Denver, but this turns into a more ‘70s/’80s classic-rock vibe, which enhances the track. This change to the speed and sound of the song should help to draw in an audience that previously said “I won’t listen to country music”. This juxtaposition is delightful and makes great use of Mike Campbell. I challenge any Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers fan not to enjoy it.
Radio, which features Sharon Van Etten on vocals, is yet another style. Probably the most pop song on the record, it should get plenty of radio play. It is a song that isn’t ruined by constant repetition – within reason, naturally. The lyrics are great and it would be good to see this song take on the sort of life Kacey Musgrave’s Follow Your Arrow did. It more than deserves it.
Track number four is Change of Heart. Another song with great rock stylings and – truthfully, as is the case for the whole album – has lyrics you really should pay attention to. In good news, the vinyl version – and I’m sure the CD version – come with lyrics. For those of you who don’t do physical media, they’re available on both Spotify and Apple Music. It’s easy to see why this song was chosen as a single.
The fifth song, which is kind of a mix of Bruce Springsteen with Tift Merritt’s Laid A Highway, is County Road. It fits well with this album, and the guitars are excellent. It’s a song where the instrumentation is as important as the vocals. This would sound great played live in a large venue.
Time Machine is another radio-friendly-sounding song. It brings to mind a summer’s day, driving down a rural highway in the middle of Texas or Arizona in an open-top car with the stereo on. The retro sound works well with the song’s theme as well as helping the album to sound as eclectic as it does.
Hell In The Heartland is back to that classic-rock sound that Margo has done so well on this album. The piano on the track adds a sense of menace to the start, and has been brilliantly done. There are again hints of Springsteen here, woven well into Price and Rothman’s lyrics.
Anytime You Call is the start of the ballad portion of the record. That said, it has an upbeat and cheery feel to it, and the nature of the lyrics – which are in the vein of You’ve Got A Friend – gives you a happy feeling.
Lydia is the most unique-sounding track on the album. The spoken lyrics and string quartet give the words a different impact. It has a more poetic feel to it and means you’re more likely to stop and listen – normally less likely with tracks later in an album’s tracklist. The subject matter of this song is thought-provoking and likely to make listeners want to know more about what inspired its writing.
Landfill is a pretty-sounding reflective song. The slow pace ends the album well and leaves you thinking.
This is a great album. The initially disparate collection of songs comes together as a well-written and produced album after a couple of listens. Margo Price‘s music just gets better as she ages, and if this progression continues, this reviewer can’t wait for album number five.