Record of the Week: Margo Price’s ‘Strays’

Nashville-based artist Margo Price is moving further away from the classic country sound which first brought her national attention on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, the debut which aligned her with other emerging neo-traditionalists ala Sturgill Simpson. On her fourth album Strays Price recalls a designation before roots-influenced songwriters were bunched into the catch-all Americana category – “Cosmic American Music” – that fusion of country and psychedelic rock that first emerged in the 1960’s with bands like the Byrds. The album’s indie and psych-rock influences are bolstered by features from Sharon Van Etten, Lucius and Mike Campbell of the Heartbreakers, and was recorded in Topanga Canyon California with producer Jonathan Wilson.

In an interview with sister station WPLN’s This Is Nashville Price says her turn away from “country” was equally inspired and deliberate. She notes that “back in Loretta Lynn’s day,” women made up just 13.7% of songs on commercial country radio and that number has actually dropped in recent years. She says she’s veered away from the genre “because you can only go so far.”  

“They do not want people in a lot of these organizations in the mainstream country world who are going to talk about sexism, agism, racism,” Price states. “They just want people to sit and look pretty and keep their opinions to themselves.”

In discussions with World Café and others Price has also been open about the increasing role psychedelics have played in her personal life – helping her finally quit alcohol after years of trying – as well as in the album’s origin, a psilocybin-led songwriting retreat in Charleston, South Carolina where she and husband/songwriting partner Jeremy Ivey developed an even deeper appreciation for Patti Smith, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and Sam Shepard.

The album also features a tribute to beloved East Nashville musician Ben Eyestone who once played drums with Price and died of cancer several years ago. Price calls Eyestone’s loss “devastating” and says the song is about “how he kinda got out before things really changed” and “got really bad.” Lyrically Price references developers coming in after the 2020 tornado and tearing down Eyestone’s old house. She says it’s an homage to what “we thought were the bad old days but were actually the good old days.”

Beyond Strays, Price recently released a memoir, Maybe We’ll Make It, and launched a podcast, Runaway Horses. Price returns to the Ryman in support of Strays in March.