Margo Price – Strays II (Loma Vista)
It’s truly fascinating—and heartening—how so many progressive Americana artists are playing with the traditional album format. When Margo Price released Strays at the start of 2023, much was made of the influence of hallucinogens on her songwriting, and more specifically how it added new twists to what could have been just another homage to the 1970s El Lay sound. Fans of Strays should therefore be excited by its sequel, nine new tracks separated into three, three-track “Acts.” The first, subtitled “Topanga Canyon,” is a blast of more of those sunny, SoCal vibes, with the song “Strays” and “Malibu” conjuring images of hitting the highway with the top down and Tom Petty on the radio. Of course, the presence of Heartbreakers guitarist Mike Campbell adds a lot to that, although he makes his mark more prominently on “Unoriginal Sin,” part of Act II: Mind Travel, which sees Price firmly veering off on a more experimental path. Her journey reaches its apogee on Act III, which begins with the Beatles-esque “Homesick” before shifting to the breezy country of “Where Did We Go Wrong” and culminating with the spooky, Stevie Nicks-ish “Burn Whatever’s Left,” on which she pleads, “Make me believe in magic again.” We might not be able to do that, but Margo Price has certainly made us believe in the creative possibilities of country music again.
John R. Miller – Heat Comes Down (Rounder Records)
Although John R. Miller has been slogging it out around the American Midwest for some time, his profile has steadily grown since he signed with the venerable Rounder Records and released Depreciated in 2021. That album established his laid back musings on modern life, delivered by a loose band with definite J.J. Cale leanings. Heat Comes Down raises Miller’s game substantially in this regard, from the album’s homespun artwork on down. While Miller and company can’t match Cale’s work in terms of pure grooves, their natural musical chemistry is the perfect complement to Miller’s often laconic observations, such as “gone looking for higher ground, from which to fall,” on “Ditcher.” There are plenty of grin-inducing moments though, especially in the rapid-fire lyrics of “Conspiracies, Cults & UFOs,” a fresh take on life on the road, and “Basements,” a song for anyone who ever dreamed of a music career. It all enhances Miller’s image as a music lifer, and with Heat Comes Down, he might finally be catching a break.
Low Cut Connie – Art Dealers (Contender Records)
The long running project of Philadelphia-based pianist/singer Adam Weiner has enjoyed much critical acclaim over the years, but with Art Dealers, the group’s eighth album, Weiner may have finally hit the rock and roll sweet spot. Over the course of the album’s 13 songs, Weiner leads the group on a raucous trip that checks nearly every important box, from E Street Band-style drama, to Lou Reed-esque reflections on inner city survivors, inspired in part by Weiner’s early days playing piano in New York City gay bars. In fact, songs like “Whips And Chains” and “Sleaze Me On” are all jagged edges, running on pure heart and soul. Of course, there’s a romantic streak at the heart of this, and Weiner turns in a few solid ballads, especially the title track, a soaring lament for all the casualties, with “The Party’s Over” serving as the ideal coda. Still, the party that Art Dealers offers rages up until then, proving that Low Cut Connie is currently one of America’s best rock bands.
SONG OF THE WEEK
Corb Lund / “Old Familiar Drunken Feeling” (New West Records)