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BEING THERE: Margo Price @ World Cafe Live

MARGO_PRICE_by_JUSTIN_OAKES copy

Photo by JUSTIN PATRICK OAKES

It must suck being a roadie for Margo Price.  I mean, isn’t it humiliating enough to hump one drum set?  But there they were:  two full kits upon the World Cafe Live stage at Margo Price’s sold-out show on Friday night.  What could this be? Were Mickey and Bill in the house?  (Price has shared a stage with Phil Lesh in the past). Allman Bros. boogie-woogie to come? But I’ll be damned if little ole Margo — resplendent in full length dress, shit kickers, and one on the way — didn’t hop behind the second kit and pound the skins on several songs.  Weird and arguably of little musical import but cool nonetheless.

Price — who has been nominated for Best New Artist at the upcoming Grammy Awards despite having released her debut in 2016 and currently promoting her sophomore effort All American Made — proved a nimble instrumentalist. Backed by a crackerjack six-piece band (including her husband and co-writer Jeremy Ivey), she moved from acoustic to electric guitar; from piano to tambourine, and, yes, to her own kit.  Now, Margo, you do know that you’re not exactly achieving the Waylon aesthetic here? The line goes, “I’ve seen the world with a five piece band looking at the backside of me.”  I don’t think Hank done it this way, indeed.

To be sure, Price’s best instrument is her voice.  She is some kind of country singer who can sustain notes with the best of them and whose Tammy meets Dolly timbre cut through a typically Milquetoast mix at the WCL. The issue, however, is what kind of country Price will or should inhabit.  Last night’s show suggests — particularly on “Do Right By Me” and “A Little Pain” both from “All American Made” — that a Dusty In Memphis country soul path is the one to pursue.  Less successful as songs were those derived from the Willie and Waylon template of simple melodies set to a basic root note thump.  Price can make anything sound compelling — although “Cocaine Cowboys,” also from the new album, was slight even for a genre not exactly known for its profundity — but soul-based material with its greater harmonic possibilities really lets that big voice shine.

The encores neatly encapsulated the two diverging paths:  Price began with a medley which included both Willie’s “Whiskey River” as well as Hag’s “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink.” Cute for sure, but, again, seemed to under-utilize Price’s pipes.  She then concluded the evening with a soulful take on “Proud Mary” that recalled Tina Turner’s sass but somehow added something to what could have been the ultimate cliche. Alas, these boxes will not contain an artist of Price’s current and surely future stature.  Sitting alone at the piano, midset, she crooned the title track from her current release.  Try this line on for size:  “1987 and I didn’t know it then // Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran.”  Not the sort of fare that will win Price any fans at the CMAs but one that will earn her continued sold out shows, best “new” artist or not.–JON HOULON

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