New, improved and expanded, ‘Strays II’ tells the tale of Margo Price’s long strange trip.
‘Strays II’ is not a follow-up to Margo Price’s ‘Strays’ album (released in January and reviewed here), rather it adds nine songs to the original 10, expanding the set. Over the past few months Price has drip-fed the new songs, three at a time, to streaming services as a curtain raiser to the official release date. They were titled ‘Act I: Topanga Canyon’, ‘Act II: Mind Travel’ and ‘Act III: Burn Whatever’s Left’, leading one to wonder if Price was aiming for some form of Americana rock opera – especially if one were to delve into the descriptions of the three acts, namely; Act I reflecting on wild young lust, the cost of living and the sacrifice it takes to find freedom. Inspired by beat poetry, out-of-body experiences and the loss of Price’s family farm, Act II entering the parts of a trip where one ponders the past but embraces the present with open arms and Act III the comedown and the reckoning. Phew!
Price, famously an artist who doesn’t want to be pinned down or penned within an Americana or country music corral, certainly knows how to sell her music with all of this pre-release tease and more power to her elbow for that. Like her buddy Sturgill Simpson she refuses to be consumed by the Nashville maw. ‘Strays’ was more of a rock album than a country one and by adding these nine songs to it, Price turns the album into an Odyssey of sorts, a voyage from first to latest.
The new songs form what is effectively the first half of what is now a double set and the first of these is the (now) title song, ‘Strays’. It’s a Tom Petty/ E Street Band like blast of rock’n’roll with Price recalling her early days with her partner Jeremy Ivey and stamping her outsider status from the start. The duo cement their relationship on the soulful ‘The Closer I Get’ and on’ Malibu’, a wonderful approximation of Bobbie Gentry’s southern anthems, Price seems lost, dreaming of better places to be. Meanwhile, on ‘Black Wolf Blues’, a gloriously cinematic song which recalls the work of Jimmy Webb, she reflects on her dirt road grandparents’ experiences.
Price is quite open about her use of psychedelics and ‘Mind Travel’ was apparently written on the back of an “out of body” experience. It does reflect this with its mild and swampy Beatles’ like delivery while ‘Unoriginal Sin’ (co-written with Mike Campbell) goes down a Tom Petty mad hatter’s rabbit hole. By now we’re into Act III (if you can recall the beginning of this review) and on ‘Homesick’ Price adds a lovely Beatles’ like mellotron (or some sort of keyboard) on a beautifully yearning song before the Lee Hazlewood-like country lope of ‘Where Did We Go Wrong’ weighs in. It’s a delightful song, perfectly simple in delivery but with some cosmic lyrics. The last of the new songs is the powerful thump of ‘Burn Whatever’s Left’, a song suffused with magic and superstition which then superbly segues into ‘Been To The Mountain’ from Strays, now given pole position, quite apposite given that she has exorcised her ghosts on the additional new songs.
To sum it up. The nine new songs act as an overture for the remainder of the album, shedding light on Price’s journey to her current position which is that of an iconoclast, daring Nashville to do its worst.