MARGO PRICE – Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Third Man): Everyone’s raving about this country veteran who’s just now getting her proper debut courtesy of Jack White’s Third Man Records, and understandably so: it contributes to staving off the glut of pretty-faced, plaid-clad, bro-country douchebags, it has a skillful vintage sound and production, and Price has a strong, ringing voice with a slight twang that doesn’t overbear. But something that’s come under scrutiny is her personal story, the details of her life that would have made perfect fodder for an Oprah exclusive. Honestly, though, it doesn’t really matter how ‘authentic’ Margo Price’s life story really is; an enthralling fictive storyteller is infinitely more entertaining than a mediocre memoirist. So whether her dad worked second shift at the prison, whether she got shafted by Nashville country music bigwigs for the better part of a decade, and whether her kid died and she went to jail and lived with a married man is immaterial. More important, from a listener’s perspective, is whether she can convincingly put those experiences across in interesting ways.
What’s weird is that if everything she describes is accurate, she runs into the same problem someone who wants to put down in ink an unbelievable life story has if they turn it into fiction instead of straight-up memoir: it doesn’t matter if it’s true, it’s still too out there to believe. So maybe she has been unfortunate enough to suffer through every possible country music cliché in existence, but her presentation doesn’t make them any less cliché: daddy lost the farm, she spent some time in the clink, is a wine-and-whiskey drinkin’ tough-talker, has had a string of unfaithful men, tried playing wife with an out-all-nighter before shacking up with a penniless man who loves her. Not to mention her long line of lyrical clichés that could fill in a few cards of honky-tonk bingo: “The future ain’t what it used to be.” “Turn back the cruel hands of time.” “Been drinking whiskey like it’s water.” “The harder they come, the harder they fall.”
It’s a shame, really, because if Price’s story really is as tumultuous as she claims it is, she hasn’t captured its details in a startling way, and despite her voice and pristine backing band, it comes out sounding like what someone who doesn’t like country imagines a country album should sound like rather than an album that stakes out a personal style within those confines—or even one that treads new ground. I know this because Paul Grein has speculated that Price’s album could be a prime contender for Album of the Year at next year’s Grammys. What an insult. B PLUS (*)