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The Earliest Bird: Top New Recorded Release 1-13-22 – 1-19-22, Margo Price’s “Strays” Reviewed

Early days, sure, but 2023 is better than the last four years first two weeks into the New Year. There have been not many, but more than usual, strong moments and the top ten is very powerful right now. It is a strange time for music where classic rock and pop-punk are like barnacles of sound: without the skillset to reinvent pop music, they are evolving it and gluing themselves to anything that’ll stick.

This is true of Margo Price. She is a country Americana singer who is steadfastly evolving into a classic rocker and on her fourth album, Strays, she and husband, partner and co-writer Jeremy Ivey, fashion a timeless Americana which is close enough to rock for Mike Campbell (The Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers one) to make an appearance and add his musical nomenclature to a sound with no precise name.

The one time I saw Margo on stage, at a festival, I was relatively impressed: she was a straightforward country singer fronting a guitar oriented rock-country band, and she had enough personality (and songs) to stand out. She is like a specifically astute Kelsea Ballerini (whose “If You Go Down (I’m Goin’ Down Too)” was one of last year’s best songs) and she would be better though I find her lyrically a little too on the nose (does the word metaphor mean nothing?). Songwise, Strays is a little uneven, all the country blues tracks drag me, but when she nails it she really nails it. “Radio”, as in “the only thing I have on is the radio”, written with Sharon Van Etten, is a lyrical roughing of life as a fame monster but a country pop rocker of the first order.

It is the best song here and the heavier numbers, the prochoice “Lydia” or the bruising and dislikable “Change Of Heart” may well be state of the state of life in 23 with 45 waiting in the wings but it isn’t fun, the beyond dreary closer “Landfill” doesn’t help.

But at least half the songs are good to great, not just “Radio”, there is also the ultra dramatic opener “Been To The Opener” where she has nothing to prove and nothing to sell… well, not quite nothing. The Mike Campbell featured “Light Me Up” is a little thriller full of sharp curves and second thoughts, and “Anytime You Call” with Lucius harmonizing behind her is a pure pop country confection with a killer solo. Altogether, a nice album for a fine country star… it won’t change your life but it may remind of you of songs you’d like to hear on the radio.

Grade: B+

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