Throughout America's history, some of the best music has been born out of troubled times. So it's no surprise that 2017, with its constant drumbeat of international and domestic strife, has been a banner year for Americana. With her new album, All American Made, Margo Price adds another outstanding entry into a highly competitive year.
Price burst onto the Americana scene in 2016 with Midwest Farmer's Daughter, making her an “overnight sensation” after a decade of toiling in Nashville's club scene. Since recording that highly, almost uncomfortably, introspective album, Price's musical fortunes have turned up. She won the Americana Music Association's Emerging Artist of the Year award in 2016 and was nominated for Artist of the Year in 2017. But rather than playing it safe and releasing another autobiographical neo-traditionalist album, Price has grown, both musically and lyrically.
Musically, the core of that steel guitar-driven traditional country sound that won her so much acclaim is still there. But, true to the album's name, All American Made dabbles in a number of other iconic American musical genres. The most immediately noticeable diversion comes with the song “Do Right By Me.” Backed by a soulful Muscle Shoals style rhythm, Price's vocals are uplifted by Americana's favorite gospel backing group, The McCrary Sisters. Any song The McCrarys touch is improved and “Do Right By Me” is no exception.
But it is in her choice of lyrical themes that Price departs most dramatically from Midwest Farmer's Daughter. Where that album looked inward, All American Made turns the gaze outward for much of its 46-minute runtime. “Pay Gap” sounds like a song Loretta Lynn might have recorded if she had come to prominence today, with its chorus of “pay gap, why don't you do the math. Pay gap. Pay gap. Ripping my dollars in half.” The album's title track, a slow-burning acoustic number, samples speeches from speeches by past Presidents while ruminating “I wonder if the President sleeps well at night. I wonder if the folks on welfare are doing alright?” Willie Nelson, a man who knows a thing or two about writing a middle-class ballad, duets with Price on “Learning to Lose”, which sums up the American dream with the brutally frank line “Everywhere the cards stacked against me. I wonder is it bad luck or just design?”
But don't think that Margo Price has suddenly turned into Neil Young. While there are plenty of politically and socially challenging songs on the album, Price gets to have her fun too. “Cocaine Cowboys” lampoons the hats and denim tourists who litter Nashville's Lower Broad but never rustled anything bigger than a large pumpkin spice latte. “Wild Women” is a free-spirited ode to ladies who refused to be tied to tradition by their apron springs.
Even when the album does turn introspective, Price finds a way to make it fun. The album's undisputed standout track is “Weakness.” The most traditional honky tonk bar crawler on the album, the line “sometimes my weakness is stronger than me” is a hook that is so perfect it's hard to believe no one in the history of country music had thought of it before. Self-destruction never sounded so much fun.
Following up an album like Midwest Farmer's Daughter is a hard thing. With All American Made, Margo Price has done the near impossible. She has not just equalled, but exceeded the lofty bar set by her debut. All American Made releases Oct. 20 on Third Man Records.