Margo Price playing an intimate full-band set for a small crowd of friends and radio-ticket-giveaway winners in the Blue Room at Jack White’s Third Man Records is a pretty only-in-Nashville-style way to spend a lunch break. What’s perhaps even more notable about the singer’s show early Thursday afternoon – recorded for broadcast at a later date as part of Nashville indie triple-A radio station Lightning 100’s (not so) secret show series – was that when, mid-set, the singer realized she’d left her guitar capo backstage, not a single one of the hundred-or-so Nashville cats on hand had one to volunteer at the ready.
“It’s good to be home,” Price said, noting she was still just waking up after an opening “Nowhere Fast” bloomed from a sparse, mellow ballad into a lush, telekinetic country-psych head trip. This was Price’s first Nashville appearance since releasing All American Made, her much-anticipated sophomore LP on Third Man, last October. And only four months later, the All American tunes – which made up six of the nine songs in the 45-minute set – have already started taking on lives of their own in the live setting.
In addition to highlights like a honky-tonk-ready rockabilly-stompin’ “Don’t Say It” and the blues-groovin’ “Do Right by Me,” Price and her six-piece backing band busted out alternative arrangements of a couple newer catalog standouts. They played All American‘s second single “A Little Pain” (on record an upbeat slice of country-R&B pop gold) as a slip-sliding whiskey-woozy waltz – “the way it was actually written,” Price bantered. And “Just Like Love,” a spacey ballad from last year;s Weakness EP was recast as a fast, Western-swinging shuffle. “Tennessee Song,” the only set-list selection from Price’s 2016 breakthrough LP Midwest Farmer’s daughter, was called out as an audible.
It’s those moments of script-flipping spontaneity and penchant for slipping back and forth between idiomatic sonics that make Price’s only seemingly straightforward songs – which sound like lost trad-country standards on delivery – so confounding and compelling.
“There’s been so much speculation from the press about what this song is about,” Price said while introducing All American‘s “Cocaine Cowboys.” “‘It’s about people in the industry; it’s an answer to this Blake Shelton song’ that I’ve, like, never heard. They’re wrong. They’re all wrong. Don’t believe the press. … [This song] is about some people that I know.”
But just because Price sings real songs about her real life, she freely admits to stealing inspiration from all the right places, like the opening line to All American’ “Wild Women” – The music and the parties / Jack Daniels and speed – which she said she read as an opening line in a chapter of Waylon Jennings’ 1996 autobiography Waylon: An Autobiography. “I thought that was a good opening line for a song, so I took it,” she said without apology.
The show’s most heartfelt moment came when Price dedicated a closing “Good Luck (For Ben Eyestone)” to the in-attendance family of the song’s namesake Ben Eyestone, a beloved Nashville touring and session drummer who died unexpectedly from cancer last July, and would’ve turned 29 this week. And even that moment came with curveballs, like when Price suddenly cued the band into a vamp of “C.C. Rider” in the style of Elvis Presley, transforming a bittersweet melody into a joyous gospel rave-up as she did her band introductions and left the stage while they rocked out.