Margo Price: Five Essential Lucinda Williams Songs
Margo Price (photo by Ford Fairchild, PR)
[July 2018 update: Margo Price's second album, 2017's All American Made, paired the fast-rising country newcomer with the legendary Willie Nelson on a duet, the Price-penned "Learning to Lose." Around the time of the album's release, she also visited FUV's Studio A.
On Independence Day, Price joins the line-up of Nelson's annual Fourth of July Picnic — her third straight year at the event. The 2018 all-day extravaganza at Circuit of the Americas in Austin also features Sturgill Simpson, the Head and the Heart, Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, Ryan Bingham, and many others. It's been a big year for Price — in May she sold out three nights at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium as a headliner, with guests that included Simpson, Emmylou Harris, and Lukas Nelson.
As for Price's beloved Lucinda Williams, her critically acclaimed fifth album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, just marked its 20th anniversary on June 30. "Oh my God, has it been that long? It doesn't seem like it," Williams told Billboard in an article about the album's life-changing impact on her career.]
A bold storyteller, East Nashville's Margo Price looks directly at her own life on her auspicious 2016 debut, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, released via Jack White's Third Man Records. She never shies away from more uncomfortable details of disappointment, bad decisions and despair, radiating strength in confessional country songs that shudder with heartbreak and tequila-soaked retorts. Her songs might hew to traditional country and honky-tonk, but their message is universal and genre-blind — there is a path from sorrow to hope.
Price's breakout success is undeniable — from her buzzed-about "Saturday Night Live" appearance to vaulting up the Billboard charts as an indie artist. She was named Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors and Awards in September. But Price is a woman who has traveled a long, tough road to get where she's at now and she doesn't take that struggle for granted.
She deeply admires other artists who have walked that tightrope too. Price has tweeted, on a "woman crush Wednesday," about her affection for equally candid, hard-living songwriters like Lucinda Williams — and she's covered Williams too, singing "I Lost It" on NPR's Nashville Sessions last fall.
Her take on Williams' music reflects a deep affection for a songwriting soulmate — here's Margo Price's Five Essential Lucinda Williams Songs:
"Pineola," Sweet Old World (1992)
When I heard this song for the first time, I must have listened to it on repeat for about an hour. It's a perfectly woven story about a boy who commits suicide and how the family grieved at the funeral. The first line is brilliant:
When Daddy told me what happened
I couldn't believe what he just said
Sonny shot himself with a .44
and they found him lyin' on his bed
It reminded me of a close friend of mine named Vincent who had taken his life at the age of 17. The words immediately choked me up. It's one of those songs I heard and wished I had written it myself.
"Joy," Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
I could include nearly every song on this album as one of my top five. It's my favorite Lucinda album. I love the production of this song in particular. The band starts out so sneaky and gritty. It's dirty blues at its best: "You took my joy and I want it back." It's simply stated and there's a no bullshit attitude that only Lucinda can convey in such a concise, traditional frame. It builds and builds with each verse into a rock and roll orgasm that ends in a sweet whisper, "I'm gonna go to West Memphis...."
"King of Hearts," Happy Woman Blues (1980)
"King of Hearts" is one of Lucinda's earlier tunes. It has a Dylanesque quality to it — lyrically it reminds me of a track like "Abandon Love" or
"Nobody 'Cept You." Sonically it's got a vibe that could have been a lost cut that could have been on Desire. With tender vocals and sweeping violins, there's a mystical quality that you can't quite put your finger on. It shows such promise as a writer and a true poet.
"Ghosts of Highway 20," The Ghosts of Highway 20 (2016)
I saw Lucinda perform a chilling rendition of this song in Washington D.C. at an event for the Americana Association about a year ago. I'm still in awe of her writing; she just keeps growing and evolving into a style that's all her own. "Ghosts of Highway 20" details a haunting recollection of America's backroads. It paints a clear picture of someone who's been up and down every interstate and dirt road of America and beyond. I love the little details about the FM radio, the farms and truck stops, the firework stands, and knowing the road like the back of her hand. It's the perfect song to listen to while driving through the deep south alone on a pitch black night.
"Concrete and Barbed Wire," Car Wheels on a Gravel Road (1998)
I couldn't help but pick another song from my favorite Lucinda record. This song obviously could be about love and conflict between two people, but in my mind it's an expression of the bigger conflict between the right and left, good and bad, and the imaginary wall that divides the righteous from the evil. That to me, is a mark of a great song and a brilliant songwriter — the ability that the words can hold more than one meaning and can change with the times to remain pertinent over decades. "This wall divides us, we're on two different sides / But this wall is not real, how can it be real? It's only made of concrete and barbed wire."
- Margo Price