The story goes that Margo Price hocked both her car and her wedding ring to raise the dough to record this debut album at the legendary SUN recording studios in Memphis. What's more, she emerged from the sessions with a decidedly non-commercial, trad-country album without a label or an obvious single to attract one. You have to hand it to her — high risk, high reward seems to be her thing.
Somehow, Price managed to get the album into the hands of Jack White over at Third Man Records and, ever since, the buzz has been building around her. Frankly, it was getting tough to believe that any upstart could meet the expectations set for Margo Price, and yet, here we are: Midwest Farmer's Daughter will almost certainly stand among the best country records of 2016.
A delightful combination of classic sounds and traditional patterns forms the sonic backdrop for Price's tough, clear-eyed lyrics. Figuring into the same territory as suddenly hip Sturgill Simpson, Chris Stapleton and Lindi Ortega, Price operates the way-back machine with one foot firmly planted in the present. Shades of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton and Neko Case arise here and there, but songs like "Weekender" and Nashville kiss-off "This Town Gets Around" feel like fresh water from a new spring.
But it's with "Hands of Time," the spellbinding six-minute opening track, that Price truly announces her burgeoning greatness. The Job-like, gruelling tale of hardship and pain — a lost farm, a broken marriage, a dead child and a stint in prison — could easily have slipped into some tear-in-my-beer parody. Instead, we're faced with something simple, and simply remarkable: a devastating, honest tale, plainly told and sweetly sung. Despite it all, somehow it'll make you feel alright. (Third Man Records)