Album Review: Midwest Farmer's Daughter by Margo Price
Excellent, Based on 12 Critics
AllMusic - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Midwest Farmer's Daughter isn't merely an autobiographical title for the retro country singer/songwriter Margo Price, it's a nice tip of the hat to one of her primary inspirations, Loretta Lynn. The connections between the two country singers don't end there. Toward the end of her career, the Coal Miner's Daughter wound up collaborating with Jack White for 2004's Van Lear Rose, and White's Third Man Records provides a launching pad for Price, releasing her self-financed solo debut as-is as Midwest Farmer's Daughter.
A dead baby, a lost farm, time in jail, alcoholism, divorce, sexual exploitation; the topics of Margo Price’s self-penned, somewhat autobiographical ten songs may sound like downers, but the opposite is true. Price rebels against fate and proclaims her existence with a loud yawp. She curses “the double-crossing back stabbing thief “of her better angel and promises to put her boot in the face of a gal who “wouldn’t know class if it bit you in the ass”.
Back in September of 2015, Third Man Records gave a teaser of the forthcoming Margo Price project with a snippet of an acoustic rendition of “Desperate And Depressed” with a nice accompanying dobro. I remember being intrigued not only by the arrangement of the song but also by the effortlessness by which Price sang and inflected her voice and by the no-nonsense lyrics. I sent a note to Ben Blackwell from Third Man that I was really liking the little bit I’d heard of Ms.
Margo Price’s debut opens with Hands of Time, seemingly a compendium of country cliches. She leaves home just $57 from broke, tears in her eyes, leaving the daddy who lost the farm when she was two. She goes to the city, plays the bars, meets bad men, drinks too hard, loses a baby, decides she has to make some money to buy back the farm. What’s startling is that it’s the true story of Price’s adulthood.
“When I rolled out of town on the unpaved road, I was 57 dollars from being broke.” As opening lines on debut albums go, that’s a pretty evocative way for a country starlet to introduce herself. “Kissed my mamma and my sisters, and I said goodbye/With my suitcase packed I wiped the tears from my eyes.” Pass the whiskey, lower the lights, this could be a weepy one. That unpaved road proved to be particularly rocky for Margo Price.
The avalanche of interest in this debut on Jack White’s label owes as much to Margo Price’s backstory as to her talents as singer-songwriter. Indeed, the two are inseparable, as opener Hands of Time makes clear, detailing how Price hit the road after her dad had lost the farm. She was spurned by Nashville, spent time in jail and lost a child. It’s gritty stuff, leavened with strings and delivered with a yearning defiance that recalls Bobbie Gentry.
Truth lies in the details – and that goes double for tradition-minded country music, a point Margo Price's debut makes fiercely. In "About to Find Out," a Loretta Lynn-styled can of whoopass, it's the image of a selfie-snapping jackass fast-forwarding the song into the present. In the honky-tonk hangover "Hurtin' (On The Bottle)," it's the unsaved gospel vocal explosion of "Lord Lord Lord!" near the end.
The story goes that Margo Price hocked both her car and her wedding ring to raise the dough to record this debut album at the legendary SUN recording studios in Memphis. What's more, she emerged from the sessions with a decidedly non-commercial, trad-country album without a label or an obvious single to attract one. You have to hand it to her — high risk, high reward seems to be her thing.Somehow, Price managed to get the album into the hands of Jack White over at Third Man Records and, ever since, the buzz has been building around her.
Margo Price has been gigging hard in Nashville for nearly a decade, earning a reputation as a fierce live act but getting barely any attention from labels or radio programmers. In the last few months, however, her fortunes took an abrupt turn: She signed to Jack White's Third Man Records, debuted on "Colbert," and released a string of hard-drinkin', hard-livin' singles. Even before she releases her debut, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she has found herself at the center of some of the most intense buzz in country music, which means she has undergone a great deal of scrutiny.
Three minutes into her debut album, Margo Price plunges listeners to the depths of her misery: Dad lost the farm, she can't catch a break in Nashville, she lost her firstborn child, and no amount of booze can quell the anguish. The Third Man Records upstart turns this misfortune into motivation on Midwest Farmer's Daughter, hellbent on making a name for herself and buying back that farm. Price attacks the superficiality of Music Row and extends a gleeful middle finger to an ex-lover, all to the tune of honky-tonk rhythms, weeping fiddles, and barroom lap steel guitar.
The first half of 2016 has seen a number of major country releases — some stellar (Loretta Lynn, Brandy Clark), some not-so-stellar (Keith Urban, Blake Shelton) — but it’s emerging and under-the-radar artists who have made the biggest impact on the genre lately. Whether it’s through sonic ….
Margo Price’s solo debut starts with a bang with “Hands of Time,” an epic story-song about a woman leaving home and attempting to make her way in the world. “All I want to do,” she sings, bathed in a wash of countrypolitan strings, “is make my own path/ I know what I am, I know what I have.” That remarkable song’s autobiographical urge — and Price’s album title, too — clearly have Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in mind. Price has Lynn’s spitfire sass and her way with a pen, too — and that pen keeps finding its way back to the sounds typical of Lynn’s heyday.