Little more than a year after Midwest Farmer's Daughter became one of the most widely-praised country debuts of 2016, Margo Price is back with All American Made, her most ambitious work yet. Having staked out her own backstory and crafted her rabble-raising mythology on her debut, Price shifts her focus outwards at a heartland ravaged by sexism and poverty. After an opening series of expertly crafted country pastiches, All American Made indeed evolves into one of the most political country records in years, a declarative honky-tonk manifesto of small-town farmer populism and working-class feminism.
Pulling off an explicitly socially conscious record that also makes for a raucous dive-bar soundtrack is no easy feat, but Price makes it work by sticking close to classic country songcraft, regardless of the subject matter. Infusing her country with a blend of blues-based R&B, orchestral girl-group pop and psychedelic-leaning indie rock, Price employs deft Nashville wordplay on "Weakness" and "A Little Pain," while songs like "Heart of America" and "Pay Gap" remain faithful to the restless, weary voices of her down-and-out protagonists.
"Women do work and get treated like slaves since 1776," she sings in the latter. Price is too smart and careful a writer to succumb to crowd-pleasing polemics, instead insisting in writing with a novelist's sharp ear for how her characters might actually be processing what it means to live in a country run by a sexual predator.
Elsewhere, the 34-year-old singer spins more harrowing autobiography
on "Do Right By Me" and "Wild Women." Throughout she pays tribute to heroes like Petty, Levon and Willie, the latter of whom even
joins Price for a tearjerker duet on "Learning to Lose." Like Nelson's
best Seventies work, Price's latest is both reverent and revolutionary, a
traditional-minded statement that nevertheless blazes an urgent path forward.