The latest entry into the canon of psychedelic-trip records, Margo Price’s new album Strays tells the story of a person arguably at their most vulnerable and plugged in to the world around them. Radiating empathy and communicating a sense of duty to others, it’s an album about feeling and feeding human connection in an increasingly disconnected world. It’s certainly familiar material, trading in themes that a lesser artist would likely spin into disingenuous preachiness, but Price pulls off a surprisingly emotional and complex project, though one that can still feel a bit bloated and rote in places.
Price has a history in the country and Americana scene of developing professional relationships with some notable jam bands and crafting her own extended, folky iterations on same. So it shouldn’t be surprising to listeners that she chooses to fold that approach into Strays, elongating some of her tracks with musical interludes. But these passages can also seem a bit random, with some of the less felt tracks still taking the time to bask in that energy. When applied correctly, the languidness feels earned — but several songs here are simply too long, falling into meandering, even indulgent, territory.
One arena in which the album undeniably excels is in its features: “Radio,” a track featuring Sharon Van Etten, is an appealingly loose bit of fun, with roll-down-the-window-worthy lyrics primed for a hot summer-day sing-along: “Only thing I have on is the radio.”And then there are tracks like “Anytime You Call,” which act as something of a foil — or balance — to this light playfulness, ushering the album’s more serious concerns to the fore: “We’re not as stable as we seem / One small gust of wind could knock down every dream.” It’s in this raw emotionality that the album most finds its footing, each song constructed to be something like a shelter in the storm.
That’s not to say the lyrics here are anything poetic or profound, but rather that Price imbues them with just the right amount of relatability: She’s able to speak to specific situations, such as the challenges of abortion access in the U.S. (“Lydia”), while still conveying a universality rather than the limited scope of narrative. And it’s in these real, emotionally invested moments that Strays finds its footing. Even when Price’s lyrics fail to articulate her ideas in the most creative ways, or when her sound feels a bit too much like bits and pieces borrowed from other artists, Strays’ highs are mostly able to compensate for its stumbles in execution.
Published as part of InRO Weekly — Volume 1, Issue 3.