Margo Price – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds, 25/01/2017
Last week Dolly Parton turned 71 years of age. To mark the occasion, Margo Price and her band rehearsed one of Parton’s greatest hits, ‘Jolene’. And tonight, placed smack dab in the middle of her barnstorming set, Price gives the song what is probably only its fourth or fifth public outing. It is a wonderfully respectful homage to one of the Queens of Country from one of its newest rising stars.
But this recent emergence into the country music firmament did not come easy to Margo Price. She had spent more than a decade trudging round the Nashville scene with her old country-soul band Buffalo Clover (a magnificent tattoo on her left thigh serves as a clear visual reminder of those hard times). These were years characterised by hardship, heartache, drinking and some jail time, a litany of what sounds just like some old traditional country music clichés but which for Price were painfully all too real.
But then Jack White‘s Third Man Records picked up on Margo Price’s music and she became the first country artist to sign to this most revered of indie labels. Her debut album Midwest Farmer’s Daughter followed and shot straight into the Billboard Country Top Ten on its release in March of last year, a remarkable feat given that the record did not even have a charting single on it.
What then happened is surely the stuff that dreams are made of. Critics stumbled over each other in their headlong rush to heap what turned out to be wholly justifiable praise on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter as Margo Price was quickly afforded the chance to sing alongside established country stars like John Prine and Kris Kristofferson. The title of Emerging Artist of the Year at the Americana Honors and Awards then followed as did an appearance on NBC’s prestigious award-winning television show Saturday Night Live.
Given her mercurial rise, this will surely be the last time to be able to catch Margo Price in such intimate surroundings. Back at the Brudenell for the second time in as little as five months, she reminds us of her last visit here when she had trapped her finger in a car door and couldn’t even play guitar. Price suffers no such hindrances tonight as she and her super-hot, stellar band – featuring her husband, musical partner and this evening’s most estimable support act, Jeremy Ivey – launch straight into a barrelling blast of ‘About To Find Out’ as if there were no tomorrow.
Having set out down the modern country highway, Margo Price and her band put their collective foot to the floor as they charge through ‘Tennessee Song’ and a cracking cover of Jessi Colter’s ‘Why You Been Gone So Long’ where Luke Schneider’s sparkling pedal steel further illuminates Price’s already crystal clear voice.
Price temporarily leaves the stage to afford her band the opportunity to take a playful instrumental romp through Bob Dylan’s ‘Nashville Skyline Rag’ before returning for her faithful reading of ‘Jolene’. Whether or not Margo Price somehow manages to channel the spirit and energy of Dolly Parton is probably open to debate, but for whatever the reason what had already been a very, very good show suddenly transforms into something else altogether.
The band step on the gas and Price fills her lungs with pure country air before bursting into Midwest Farmer’s Daughter’s stand-out song, the autobiographical ‘Hands of Time’. And the ensuing ‘Weekender’ also draws upon Price’s darker days, reflecting upon those times she had spent behind bars.
Merle Haggard’s ‘Red Bandana’ is given the full honky-tonk heat treatment though its couplet of “you ain’t gonna be no Bobby McGee, but you’re trying to” surely gives lie to the evening’s first encore, an astonishing rendition of Kris Kristoffersen’s ‘Me and Bobby McGee’. Riven with years of pain and suffering, Janis Joplin’s still remains the defining version of this song. But knowing a thing or two herself about anguish and adversity, Price is able to imbue ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ with similar feelings of misery and misfortune. Her vocal delivery here is an incredibly tender tour-de-force.
With her voice now blazing a trail somewhere between that of Bobby Gentry and Loretta Lynn, Margo Price bids farewell with Rodney Crowell’s ‘I Ain’t Living Long Like This’. It is a remarkable end to High & Lonesome’s first live show of 2017, and should the Leeds promoters continue to put on gigs as incendiary and life-affirming as this it is undoubtedly going to be a very good year indeed.
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