Torchbearer and spiritual exponent of country music are two possible labels to attach to Margo Price. But why not just go with the personification of ‘three chords and the truth’. Maybe labels are too simplistic and straightjacketed to define an artist who naturally oozes cutting lyrics and songs wrapped in an explicit coating of real life feelings. 2016 is continuing to evolve as the door opening year for Margo, and her debut full band English tour kicked off with a date at The Exchange in Bristol. A smallish venue that rocked from start to finish with sounds more akin to The Grand Ole Opry, a Broadway honky tonk and a rural Illinois back porch. For eighty minutes this evening the country music hype surrounding Margo Price evaporated in a haze of reality.
While Margo is no doubt just being herself, the sass of Elizabeth Cook is evident alongside the endearing vibrancy of Lindi Ortega (complete with trademark little red boots) and a whole lot of Loretta Lynn. This is music shunned by the mainstream, picked up by Jack White’s Third Man organisation and now thriving in a crossover world linked by a passion for true authenticity and utmost integrity. Two provisos of getting the most from this gig were tuning into the psyche of what makes this artist tick and a love for traditional country music twang.
Margo explained early in the show that an injured finger prevented her from playing guitar this evening. The upshot from this is that she had to play the mic for the entire set and perhaps the audience got a starker glimpse of an artist totally immersed in the undercurrent of each song, aligning feelings and movement. Regardless of Margo’s musical abstention, her five piece band gave a sterling exhibition of delivering a country music soundtrack with her husband Jeremy Ivey stepping in on the acoustic guitar alongside the key quartet of drums, lead, bass and pedal steel guitar. The stage was set to savour an almost entire playing of Margo’s debut solo album MIDWEST FARMER’S DAUGHTER and wonder what covers were going to flavour the remainder of the show.
While nine fantastic originals lifted from this stellar album release were undeniably the highlight of the show, the seven covers selected left in no doubt the iconic status of Margo’s influences. Each of the tracks chosen from a list of Levon Helm, Gram Parsons, Bill Monroe, Waylon Jernnings, Loretta Lynn, Janis Joplin and Neil Young cut an individual niche into the set list. My favourites were Levon’s ‘Poor Old Dirt Farmer’ (sung in vocal harmony), Gram’s ‘Ooh Las Vegas’ (segmented into a rockin’ finale) and Loretta’s ‘Rated X’ (exuding so much synergy with the original material of Margo).
It’s pure educational bliss marvelling at the lyrical content of each Margo Price song. ‘Weekender’ was given a stunning rendition with the striking line ‘she said she beat her boyfriend up while high on crack cocaine’.The words ‘but you wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass’ raises a smiles each time ‘About to Find Out’ is heard and ‘they’re sucking all the good blood out of this town’ goes a long way to placing ‘Since You Put Me Down’ as one of her standout tracks. Quite simply each of the nine tracks from the album were 5* performances (the missing two were ‘World’s Greatest Loser’ and ‘How the Mighty Have Fallen’.)
From a popularity and exposure point of view, the well documented classic ‘Hands of Time’ and the belting stomper ‘Hurtin’ (on the Bottle)’ simmered and rocked in their respective glory. On an evening where Margo concentrated the communication process through her songs, she lifted the mask on ‘Four Years of Chances’ with a dedication to all divorcees and ensured certain lines from her biting industry attack number ‘This Town Gets Around’ were emphasised. ‘Tennessee Song’ got the packed audience in rhythmic movement early in the gig and band introductions were reserved for the instrumental segments during the song ‘Paper Cowboy’ which is a non-album cut written by bass player Matt Gardner.
This Bristol show had the added bonus of a half hour opening set from local based band Wildflowers, and a highly engaging one to boot. Led by vivacious and energetic vocalist Siddy Bennett, the trio completed by sister, Kit on keyboards and guitarist James Asbury railroaded through songs mainly from their album ON THE INSIDE and performed the perfect warm up role. Although you get the feeling that ‘warm up’ might just be the start for this infectious group who are beginning to surface as a recognised emerging talent from a multitude of sources. Pop tinges and incredibly catchy melodies prove the mere overlay to their music which is substantiated by a perceptive writing outlook and a feel synonymous with singer-song writing vibes of classic Americana. A real coup for those of us not previously acquainted with the band.
The emergence of Margo Price in 2016, and especially the mission to bring her music to Europe many miles from her Tennessee home, is proving a serious highlight of the year. All the traits are in place including fabulous song writing, a top band in tow and an inner desire to spill the beans of her heart to an attentive audience in the endearing art of song. It is a privilege to be a fan, support her music and share a sound that has the ability to move in so many ways.