They’re a generation apart, but Margo Price and Iris DeMent have a lot in common. They both play socially conscious Americana, they were both late starters to their recording careers, and they’re both married to other musicians. These albums are my first experience with both artists.
Margo Price grew up in small town Illinois, playing piano and singing in Church choir. She spent her twenties in Nashville, working in odd jobs, including teaching children to dance at a YMCA. Her career as a recording artist didn’t start until her thirties, and Strays is her fourth album. She’s produced by Jonathan Wilson, who recorded in his Topanga Canyon studio and provides an agreeably rootsy sound. Guests include Mike Campbell, who plays guitar on ‘Light Me Up’, and Lucius on backing vocals on ‘Anytime You Call’.
There’s a nice taste of grit in Price’s voice – she recalls Stevie Nicks on the rockier tracks like ‘Been to the Mountain’ and ‘Light Me Up’. She sounds like Rickie Lee Jones on the gentler, piano-based ‘County Road’. There’s a nice stretch of mellow songs at the end – “gentrification comes like it always does and some nice condos, they go in” is a great line in ‘Lydia’.
Price is a smart operator, making Americana that’s gritty and intelligent.
Workin’ on a World
My wife’s boss has been recommending DeMent, as well as her husband Greg Brown, to me for years. DeMent’s a slow worker – Workin’ on a World is only her seventh album in a career dating back to 1992’s Infamous Angel. Now in her sixties, DeMent’s attacking the hypocrisy of America – the Republican party and Jeff Bezos. She’s hitting obvious targets, but she does so with wisdom and dignity. She’s quoting scripture in ‘How Long’, singing “Justice rolls down like water/And righteousness flows like a mighty stream.” She told the New York Times about the title track.
“It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that song saved my life. Seeing my country embrace what it embraced in 2016 made me wonder truly and utterly how I was going to live. I don’t say that lightly. I just couldn’t comprehend it. But that song steadied me. I was singing it at home at the piano long before I recorded it. I would get up in the morning and sing it to get myself going, to get clarity. It was comforting in the way that even painful truths can carry comfort.”https://www.nytimes.com/2023/02/21/arts/music/iris-dement-workin-on-a-world.html
DeMent’s creaky voice sounds like it belongs to a dusty old 78 on the more esoteric tracks like ‘The Cherry Orchard’. The music’s fine, but it’s DeMent’s lyrics that are most memorable on this record. The standout is ‘Goin’ Down to Sing in Texas’, a lengthy blues where DeMent airs a long and righteous list of hates and loves.
DeMent’s sharp on Workin’ on a World, needing to air her righteous anger for her own sake.
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Both of these songs appeal to me. I like the more rock vibe of Margo’s song and the meaningful lyrics of Iris’s.
Thanks for listening!
First time hearing Margo. Really good stuff and love how the song leads off with the digiridoo. There is only one song I know of Iris’ but I should know more.
I like Prine but I’ve never heard that song before.
I’d only really heard of her through 10,000 Maniacs and David Byrne covering her song ‘Let the Mystery Be’.
Nice seeing two artists whose latest albums I covered as well. I also ended up calling out the same tunes for each: “Been to the Mountain”, by Price; and “Going Down to Sing in Texas”, by DeMent – both great tunes!
Yeah, I did think of you as I was making the post – very much a Christian’s Music Musings kind of week.
I like both of them. The reason I like them is that they both have unique voices…not the pretty pop female voice…they are distinctive. I heard DeMent on Christian’s site but I like, as you say, the grit of Price’s voice.
DeMent’s voice is pretty distinctive – kind of cool she didn’t get it coached out of her.
You are right…it’s cool she has a distinctive voice…you would think that people would want to keep that part…I’m glad she did.
Depends on the genre, I guess. She’s not going to have big pop hits singing like that.
It has changed… .I remember reading somewhere years ago if someone was a dead ringer for Barbara Streisand or Neil Diamond, they would pass on that singer because they already had a Barbara or Neil on the roster. There were exceptions though of course.
Been listening to Iris for a long time. Good cut.
So I should dive back into her previous stuff?
If you like this new stuff. Yes you should. She hung out with with two of my favorites. Haggard and Prine. She added a cool quality to those two characters. Here’s a song off her first album. Emmylou adds some harmony. Beautiful.
Margo Price had a hit with “Change of Heart”, which recently spent 19 weeks on the Billboard Adult Alternative Airplay chart. And I applaud Iris DeMent’s courage in calling out the hypocrisy and hate coming from the Right in America.
I didn’t realize that was the hit – it’s a pretty evem album, not the kind of record where the big single dominates.