In January of this year, Margo Price put out a bold and beautiful album, Strays, a country-rock-Americana album that pushed the boundaries of the genre, lyrically and sonically, and received great critical acclaim: lauded as her best yet. This last Friday, to many people’s surprise, she came out with her follow up, tacked onto her last album, simply called Strays II. It is a nine track album that deals in story and character study, even more so than her first offering.
We are revisiting some of our favourite albums of 2023
It is divided, like a play into three acts—an act made up of three songs each. The first act, which includes songs about her younger days, lustful and full of desire, as well as packed with her signature wisdom and self-consideration, is something that would appeal to those young women in these adventurous and formative years of their lives, and perhaps be a humorous and empathetic reminder to those older women who have already passed through them to hopefully greener pastures.
“They say love and grief / Are a package deal / The more you have the more you feel,” she sings on the third song, “Malibu,” which features Buck Meek of Big Thief, and details chasing dreams and being left by a lover in Malibu. “California / A good place to be / But if you’re gonna be stranded / It’s better than Tennessee.” Throughout the record, Price reveals things about herself, (sometimes through the study of other characters,) that make her relatable, lovable, and fill out one of alt-Americana’s most compelling personalities.
The second act sheds the naiveté of youth, with chilling and piercing songs about the adult dangers that lurk (“Black Wolf Blues”) and the adult adventures that we choose (“Unoriginal Sin”). “And the lower the fruit hangs / Off of the vine / The more desperate people take a bite,” she sings in both censure of our political and social systems that don’t look out for the needy and in criticism of the common people’s tendency to grab whatever’s easiest and most convenient for them. Throughout the record, like the first disc, Strays, is intelligent and witty social commentary and an empathetic look at life as a woman and as a person in the lower class of America.
The third act, she says, is the “come down and the reckoning.” With songs about being “Homesick” for the past, looking at “Where Did We Go Wrong,” and the conviction that we should “Burn Whatever’s Left,” and the songs, fit with alien invasions and apocalyptic scenes is, to go along with her structuring of the album, just plain good theater.
It is an interesting choice to tack this album, a record with much more of a story arc, onto her previous album. Something that will certainly get listeners, like me, who missed the first album—one of the best albums of the year, I think—to witness her Americana magic. But to me, the albums feel like they are written in very different ways: the first in a sort of Jenny Lewis vein—diaristic, even vouyeristic at times, but ultimately satisfying personal statement of intent; and the second, as seen by the breaking up into different acts, a sort of memoir or novel-like piece. I think the wiser move, both to cut the length of the listen and to respect what each of the albums has to offer in and of themselves, would be to release them separately.
All this to say, they are both great albums (the first a bit more in-your-face than the second, a look Price wears well, a record deserving a 9 rating), but don’t feel like you’ve gotta do it all in one sitting.
Order Strays II by Margo Price HERE
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