Female empowerment is certainly a popular topic of conversation these days. Between the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, coupled with a slew of assault and harassment allegations in Hollywood and involving some of the most powerful men on the planet, women are increasingly (and rightfully) having their voices heard.
And while the country is finally catching up on conversations regarding equality and empowerment, country music has been embracing women’s voices (no pun intended) for quite some time. Dating back to legends like Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline, country music – which, to be fair, was and remains a fairly male-dominated industry – has never shied away from showcasing its best and brightest, no matter the gender.
Which brings us to Margo Price, who plays at Heights Theater on Wednesday. Price has almost become the face of the women’s country renaissance, despite the fact that her first full-length record, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, was released less than two years ago on Jack White’s Third Man Records; a second full-length LP, All-American Made, dropped last October.
Price has risen to fame, despite little commercial radio play, for a number of reasons. For one, she’s immensely talented. Secondly, her slow rise to success – from playing in empty bars and working side jobs to make ends meet – is a good story, one that affords her some credibility in the shiny Nashville scene. Most importantly, she ranks among the most personal, poignant singer-songwriters in music today. Price’s songs touch on any number of personal topics, from living in poverty to serving jail time to the tragedy that was losing a child via a miscarriage.
“I think it’s okay to talk about grief and sorrow, especially for women when you lose a child, or have a miscarriage,” Price told The Independent last year. “It’s good to talk about it as a lot of people don’t want you to speak about those things. It makes people sad, but sometimes you’ve got to.”
Price knows a thing or two about sad stories. This is a singer-songwriter who has watched her family farm get repossessed, who suffered the aforementioned miscarriage, who once had to pawn her wedding ring because she needed the money. Those tales of heartbreak have not only endeared Price to an ever-growing legion of loyal fans; they have also influenced her songwriting. Whereas some in the Nashville country machine hire songwriters to pen readymade hits, Price writes all her own tunes.
Not that she is alone in this regard. As mentioned, country has always embraced female voices. Whether it was Lynn or Tammy Wynette once upon a time, or '90s hitmakers like Reba McEntire and Shania Twain, women country singers have routinely ranked among some of the more celebrated artists in the industry. But rarely did their songs get as personal as those penned by Price and those of her ilk.
Take Maren Morris, for instance. The 27-year-old Arlington native didn’t wait as long as did Price for her big break – she was a certified hitmaker by 25 – but her songs are cut from a similar cloth. On the Grammy-nominated “I Could Use a Love Song,” Morris details life in the aftermath of a trying breakup. She’s not angry, but rather, reflective and unable to move forward. Drinking. Smoking. Nothing helps. Perhaps a love song will help. Anything to get through the day. It’s a crushing track, particularly for anyone who has been through tough times in a relationship, or even those who remember the “one that got away.”
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There are numerous other examples. Miranda Lambert’s The Weight of These Wings – particularly the track, “Tin Man” – is songwriting at its finest. Same for pretty much anything written and performed by Kacey Musgraves or Cam. Little Big Town – a quartet half-comprised of women – is an underrated outfit. And let’s not forget that America’s resident pop star, Taylor Swift, rose to fame as country royalty thanks to a unique ability to write songs that were easy to understand, and thus, made easily palatable to commercial radio and the music-buying public at-large.
But back to Price, who has guested on Saturday Night Live and who also displayed her live chops with a killer set at House of Blues in late 2016. She’s only been on the mainstream scene now for a couple of years, and already she’s become one of the faces of a movement. Whether she can increase her commercial footprint is a good question. Whether she even wants to is another.
Either way, it’s refreshing to see someone so capable of translating heartache and pain into art, of telling a story that resonates. Price is not alone in this regard. Country music is littered with talented female singer-songwriters, each of whom has their own unique story to tell. Here’s hoping those artists’ stories only encourage other singer-songwriters to do the same.