March 2023 Rock/Pop Record Reviews

Margot Price: Strays
Loma Vista Records (16/44.1 WAV download; also available on CD, LP, cassette tape). 2023. Jonathan Wilson, Margo Price, prods.; Jonathan Wilson, Dexter Green, others, engs.
Performance ****½
Sonics ****

Artists with ambition must grow or their vision gets stale and repetitive. They also need something new to sell streams, concert tickets, and records. One sure way to change things up is a guest list that includes Mike Campbell, Sharon Van Etten, and Lucius. Another is to put your art in the hands of a new producer, in this case Jonathan Wilson, who has released acclaimed solo albums and worked on recent projects by Angel Olsen, Benmont Tench, and Dawes. Recorded in several studios with several engineers, Strays has the pleasant, could-be-better sonics common to rock records today. The opener, "Been to the Mountain," its guitar-riff crunch tastefully mixed behind her voice, is the heaviest, most rock-adjacent tune she has recorded. Where her last album, the Sturgill Simpson–produced "That's How Rumors Get Started," was lush and poppy, Strays moves in a 1970s Laurel Canyon–rock direction.

Despite its title, "Hell in the Heartland," with its fascinating tempo changeup near the end, could be a Stevie Nicks–sung Rumours outtake. Although Price's country roots are largely de-emphasized, her vocal performance of the hard luck tale "Lydia," accompanied by her acoustic guitar tastefully surrounded by strings, is a poignant tale of a lost soul and another example of Price, who co-wrote nearly every song here, at her lyrical best: "Tied like a dog on a chain with a midlife crisis and an ex-husband," the protagonist spirals downward. "She sold herself for synthetic heroin and sleepin' with a man about twice her age/Really though it was anything but sleepin'."

Admirably committed to trying new sounds and transcending easy labels, Price stands out among the seemingly endless flock of female Americana singer/songwriters recording today.—Robert Baird