At a certain point, it no longer makes sense to use the word “country.” Margo Price does not make country music. Maybe she never did. Price spent years trying to make it into the established systems of Nashville country, and it never happened. Instead, Price found her way to prominence through Jack White’s Third Man label — a Nashville operation that has nothing to do with the Nashville establishment. Still, “country” was always a crucial part of the Margo Price sales pitch. Here, we had a great country singer who sang country music the way country music used to be sung. But on That’s How Rumors Get Started, Price puts that to bed. That’s How Rumors Get Started isn’t a country album or even an Americana one. It’s just a great rock record. Maybe that should’ve been the pitch the whole time: Here, we have a great rock singer who sings rock music the way rock music used to be sung.
Price recorded That’s How Rumors Get Started in Los Angeles, in the same room where the Beach Boys made Pet Sounds. The album credits are full of session-musician all-stars with decades of credits: Pino Palladino, James Gadson, Benmont Tench, Matt Sweeney. Price’s husband, the singer-songwriter Jeremy Ivey, plays guitar on many of the songs, and he co-wrote most of them with her. There’s no fiddle, no dobro, no mandolin. Only one song even has pedal steel. Instead, That’s How Rumors Get Started looks back to a certain form of sunny, shimmering classic rock: Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac at their least flowery. (I wonder if Price thought about calling it That’s How Rumours Get Started.)
Sturgill Simpson produced That’s How Rumors Get Started, with Price and veteran sound engineer David Ferguson serving as co-producers. When Simpson wanted people to stop talking about him as a country artist, he had to make a grimy ZZ Top record with an anime movie attached to it. Price doesn’t take any steps that drastic. Instead, she’s made a warm, grounded, enormously appealing record with the sort of expansive live-in-studio glow that’s proven so hard to capture in recent years.
If you focus in and listen close, you can hear the musicians on That’s How Rumors Get Started doing some amazing things; I love the purring rhythmic interjections of Sweeney’s electric guitar on “Twinkle Twinkle.” But most of the time, those musicians, famous as they are, know how to stay out of the way. They find the pocket of the song and lock in with each other, and they put the focus firmly on Price. In a lot of ways, the recent album that That’s How Rumors Get Started best recalls is Bob Dylan’s Rough And Rowdy Ways, another record of absolute professionals playing subtly sophisticated roadhouse boogie. On that album, though, Dylan takes clear joy in playing the gravelly trickster enigma. That’s not Price’s style. Price never hides.
On past records, Margo Price has spelled her whole life out in stark, unforgiving language: The farm that her family lost, the bad relationships, the rotten managers, the drinking, the depression, the baby who died. On That’s How Rumors Get Started, Price only alludes to past struggles; when she says that “sobriety’s a hell of a drug,” she trusts that we’ll understand where she’s coming from. “Almost went broke from paying my dues,” she sings. “I won’t forget what it’s like to be poor/ I could be there again, that’s for sure.” Sometimes, she shows disbelief that people want to put her on TV now. Sometimes, she laments all the time she’s spent on the road, away from her oldest song: “The river it runs only one way/ And when it’s gone, it’s gone to stay.” These are direct, unpretentious songs, and she sings them with force and personality.
That’s How Rumors Get Started ends with a song called “I’d Die For You,” and it’s one for the ages. Price’s band plays a laid-back, slow-building version of the Bo Diddley rumble-shuffle, while Price sings about people fighting their way through an inhospitable world: “Pennies in a woman’s hand/ Missing teeth or payment plans/ Kids want something worth a damn/ But they’re just pissing in the flood.” Her voice get bigger, and then she hits the chorus and it takes off soaring: “I can’t live for them, it’s true/ But honey, I would die for you.” It’s a total goosebump moment. One of these days, she’s going to get to sing that live, and it is going to bring houses down. Maybe then, we’ll all see Margo Price for what she is: A great rock singer, singing a great rock song.
That’s How Rumors Get Started is out 7/10 on Loma Vista.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, and 9th Wonder’s self-titled debut as Dinner Party.
• Juice WRLD’s posthumous collection Legends Never Die.
• My Morning Jacket’s just-announced but long-awaited Waterfall companion album, The Waterfall II.
• The Beths’ charming power-pop hookfest Jump Rope Gazers.
• Julianna Barwick’s incandescent space-out Healing Is A Miracle.
• 100 gecs’ crazy-looking remix collection 1000 gecs & The Tree Of Clues.
• Sharptooth’s metallic hardcore shit-ripper Transitional Forms.
• Inter Arma’s ass-kicking fuzz-metal covers album Garbers Days Revisited.
• TJO (Tara Jane O’Neil)’s home-recorded covers collection Songs For Peacock.
• Rufus Wainwright’s grand old-timey pop return Unfollow The Rules.
• The Streets’ reliably chatty None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive.
• Jazz greats Redman, Mehldau, McBride, & Blade’s all-star team-up RoundAgain.
• Sam Prekop’s careful and meticulous instrumental record Comma.
• Lantern’s Finnish death metal destroyer Dimensions.
• Aseitas’s technical death metal epic False Peace.
• The Jayhawks’ seasoned jangle-rocker XOXO.
• A Grape Dope (John Herndon of Tortoise)’s experimental collage Arthur King Presents Backyard Bangers.
• BTS’s latest K-pop takeover Map of the Soul: 7 ~The Journey~.
• DMA’s’ synthy dance-rocker The Glow.
• Shaggy’s feverishly awaited updating-the-classics sequel Hot Shot 2020.