Margo Price throws her hat into the ring as one of the best Southern songwriters of the modern age with All American Made. Price's sophomore record takes the microscope that she fixated on herself on Midwest Farmer's Daughter and points it back at the world, examining politics and society while maintaining the heart that made her debut such a sensation.
The album kicks off with a couple of upbeat numbers, "I Don't Say" and "Weakness," that not only show off Price's dynamic vocals but also some impressive musicianship from her band. The embellishments of whirling Leslie speakers and toe-tapping guitar leads add a flavour of Southern rock and blues, and later cuts feature luxurious strings and a gospel choir. It's a bit more adventurous for Price, who says she didn't want to be limited by just making a traditional country album here.
That sonic exploration continues on "Pay Gap," a Mexicali, accordion-infused tune that's the most matter-of-fact political statement on the record, and also one of the best. The song tackles the income disparities still faced by women and minorities, but the refrain of "pay gap, pay gap, ripping my dollars in half" isn't backed by anthemic passion; Price sings it with dejected resignation, seemingly weary and a little jaded from the battle she can't believe must still be fought.
Price gets some help from recently befriended country legend Willie Nelson, who acts as her duet partner on the intimate "Learning to Lose," a musing on working-class struggles. Price and Nelson's harmonies jazzily dance in and out of time with each other, supported by steady acoustic guitar and beautiful pedal steel swells. Nelson even lends some lead guitar work here with the help of his legendary Martin acoustic, Trigger; the eight-bar solo is raw and visceral, with every pick scrape and inadvertent guitar bump left in the recording. You can almost smell the haze of smoke that surely filled the studio it was cut in.
Price is an Americana sweetheart on "Heart of America," where she sings about the darker side of the farming industry, and although "Wild Women" feels like a carefree romp, Price takes on more double standards, singing about balancing touring and motherhood and how "all the men run around and no one bats an eye."
Not every track is so heavy, though. "A Little Pain" is an organ-driven boogie that's catchy as hell, and "Cocaine Cowboy" cuts down the rail-riding, western wannabes who Price says are all hat and no cattle.
The album closes with the title track, a poignant political statement Price wrote under the Obama administration that's even more vital under Trump. She reflects on welfare and the threat of nuclear war while handpicked, sampled speeches crackle away in the distance. Price says she tried to keep the voices balanced, light and dark at all times; at one point, it's Richard Nixon and Martin Luther King, each hard-panned to a side. Throughout the song, the at-odds voices are broken up by reverb-drenched guitars, a chorus of children and Price herself. The album fittingly fades out as Nixon and Bill Clinton yammer on.
All American Made is provocative, charismatic and endearing, proving what many of country's all-time greats already seem to know: Margo Price is a legend in the making. (Third Man Records)