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Stray Cat Country

The latest album from Margo Price is a druggy journey through the past

David Meir Grossman
February 24, 2023

A cool thing about recorded music is that it exists multiple times. To state the obvious: An album captures the moment it was recorded, and then, when you play it, it’s there for you all over again. A song can be old, new, and timeless all at once. A vintage sound can suddenly take on new meaning, given enough time.

Take Margo Price’s wonderful new record, Strays. In her fourth studio album, Price exists in multiple time periods at once: There’s the current moment, in which she’s one of country’s most innovative musicians, pushing the genre forward. And how is she doing that? With a sound that’s firmly rooted in the late ’70s, taking inspiration from Seven Year Ache-era Rosanne Cash and Simple Dreams-era Linda Ronstadt, a moment when rock and country were romping around together to create a feeling of something real.

If “something real” is too abstract, listen to Strays’ opening track, “Been to the Mountain.” Here, Price describes herself over and over again in ever-changing terms. “Used to be a lover, queen and a drifter / A cowboy devil, a bride in a box, and / A pilgrim and a thief, but it was me underneath.” The song’s music video documents a version of the mushroom trip that Price has said influenced the album’s creation, with multiple versions of herself dancing in unison.

“Been to the Mountain” has the feeling of a trippy revelation, a moment of clarity that can only come when you’re absolutely out of your mind. That feeling continues on the barnburner “Light Me Up,” and then starts to cool down on the album’s third track, the warm and romantic “Radio,” featuring Sharon Van Etten. If part of a great drug trip is coming to mind-shattering understandings of the self, an equally crucial part is when you run away from everyone, take off all your clothes, and listen to music. “The only thing I have on is the radio,” Price sings, which feels less like a come-on and more like a realization that she doesn’t need anything else.

Price, however, hasn’t completely disappeared into herself. “Lydia” tells the story of a woman at a clinic. Whether it’s an abortion clinic or a methadone one, Price doesn’t say, but the story is harrowing either way.

Some of the songs feel lighter, and can verge on the treacly. “Time Machine” has a wonderful sound to it, invoking Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band’s romantic work with the glockenspiel, but wanting to ride a time machine back to “when everything was alright” seems to work against some of the album’s other material. It feels like a watered down version of Price’s first knockout song, “Hands of Time,” off her debut Midwest Farmer’s Daughter.

But this isn’t the same Price who made Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. She has grown and changed, trading in alcohol for weed and psychedelics. It’s a trade that suits her well, and her band is as tight as ever, following whatever rabbit hole she dives into next. She’s made the first great album of the year, and any time spent following her journey is time well spent.

David Meir Grossman is a writer living in Brooklyn. His Twitter feed is @davidgross_man.