Country music has a new rising star, and her name is Margo Price. The Nashville-based singer has taken the Americana world by storm with her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter. We were pleased to welcome her for her first Austin City Limits taping, which encompassed most of Daughter, some well-chosen covers and even some as-yet unrecorded songs.
Her six-piece band kicked the evening off with a brief rip through Jerry Reed’s “Swarmin,” before introducing the woman of the hour. She and the band immediately jumped into “About to Find Out,” a rocking honky-tonker from Daughter. Her powerhouse wail – somewhere between Tanya Tucker’s earthiness and Dolly Parton’s ethereality – introduced “Tennessee Song,” a relative epic that featured a swirling duet between Luke Schneider’s pedal steel and Micah Hulscher’s synthesizer – the latter an instrument not usually heard in country this traditionalist. She then played new song “Learning to Lose,” as yet unrecorded – but the power of this self-deprecating ballad means it won’t stay in that state for long. Visiting the songbook of Texas songwriting great Billy Joe Shaver, she romped through “Black Rose,” most famously recorded by the great Waylon Jennings. Back to back killers followed via the drunk-in-jail tale “Weekender” and the defiant ballad “Since You Put Me Down.”
Inspired by an experience on a bad tour, “Desperate and Depressed” – the B-side of her hit single “Hurtin’ On the Bottle” – found humor in the situation and put it to a country beat. Price then turned to the catalog of her songwriter friend Steve Knutson for another tale of alcohol consumption gone bad – “It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding a Horse” was funny and poignant all at once. She described the stirring “Hands of Time” as inspired by a particularly hard time in her life, but leavened the pain with the self-described “country funk” of “Four Years of Chances,” which found particular favor with the crowd. As did “This Town Gets Around,” a middle finger to the music business that rules her Nashville base, set to a beat that should send couples spinning ‘round the dance floor.
Price then plucked a little-known gem from the catalog of Austin hero Doug Sahm: “I Wanna Be Your Mama Again” sounded a long-lost country hit in her hands. “Paper Cowboy” began as a honky-tonk ballad but quickly morphed into a stretched-out, frisky two-stepper that gave her an opportunity to introduce her crack band. She brought the audience to its feet by ending the main set with “Hurtin’ On the Bottle,” the radio hit on its way to becoming her signature song, even joining the crowd on the floor for the last chorus.
But that wasn’t the last of it. Price and the band retook the stage for a rollicking 70s-style take on “Gotta Travel On,” the 1959 hit for Billy Grammer. She then took on Neil Young, but not any of the obvious tunes – instead she visited the Canadian iconoclast’s trad-country LP Old Ways for a take on the title track that let the band stretch out again. Price and company ended the night with a ripping charge through Gram Parsons’ “Ooh Las Vegas,” a song fast enough to let everyone show off and still come in under five minutes. It earned her a standing ovation, and the band took a well-deserved bow. It was a great show, and we can’t wait for you see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 42 on your local PBS station.