There are shades, as many have already pointed out, of Coal Miner’s Daughter by Loretta Lynn, and Price’s hard and assured drawl frequently takes you to her own “Fist City.” And it’s all true: Her daddy apparently lost the farm he used to grow corn and soybeans on in northwest Illinois’ Iowa-bordering Buffalo Prairie Township when she was two, then “took a job working second-shift at the prison,” just like she tells it over the pedal steel-accented Muscle Shoals groove of the album’s six-minute opener, “Hands of Time.”
At least in the lyrics, she eventually leaves town “…$57 from being broke,” takes up with a married man and tragically sees her own child die –- another straight-up autobiographical detail; in 2010, Price gave birth to twin sons, one with a heart condition that only allowed him to live for two weeks.
Price’s songs are rife with autobiographical detail, from a weekend in jail and the tragic death of her child to being plain old flat-out broke
In “Weekender,” a Hammond-fueled honky-tonker, she winds up in jail for a couple days with a coughing cellmate who “said she beat up her boyfriend while high on crack cocaine.” The food’s barely edible and Price’s “old man ain’t got the cash to even call my bail” –- all in all, probably the closest modern country has come to its own Orange Is the New Black, and is also said to be based on an actual incident stemming from a D.U.I. arrest a few years ago.
So Price has a point when she tells interviewers she’s got as much David Allan Coe and Merle Haggard as Loretta or Tammy Wynette in her; those guys used to tell similar behind-the-bars true-crime stories. Though they probably never sang about the sort of indignities faced by a woman trying to make it in Nashville, as Price does in “This Town Gets Around.”
“It’s not who you know, it’s who you blow, who’ll put you in the show,” she warns. “Maybe I’d be smarter if I played dumb.” And the creep shaking her hand with a viper up his sleeve in album-closer “Desperate and Depressed” may well be a music-biz sleazeball, too.
Price’s album, which she recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis, was turned down by pretty much every record company around until Jack White decided to put it out on Third Man. Although he’s been working with country women like Lynn and Ashley Monroe for years, this is his label’s first full-length in the genre. Nice save, sir.
Price’s songs admittedly sound very much like ‘60s and ’70s throwbacks, with lots of hitting the bottle, self-abuse and self-medication, but it remains to be seen if commercial country radio will embrace her
To pay for studio time, Price and husband Jeremy Ivey sold their wheels and Margo’s wedding ring. Ivey’s also been her musical partner for years, including three albums (the third was Kickstarter-funded) with their roots-rock band Buffalo Clover. Before getting hitched, they were roaming buskers sleeping rent-free in a tent, strumming Bob Dylan tunes for ring money. With all the attention Midwest Farmer’s Daughter is getting, they might finally recoup the investment — it all goes full circle, somehow.
Which isn’t to suggest it’ll get spun on commercial country radio, although that remains to be seen. The format has played Gretchen Wilson, Miranda Lambert, Jamey Johnson, Eric Church and eventually even Chris Stapleton (some more consistently than others) in recent years. It hasn’t been as welcoming to Sturgill Simpson (who was a member of Price’s band the Price Tags for a spell), Alabama Shakes (whose Brittany Howard Price has both recorded and shared living space with), Pistol Annies or solo Ashley Monroe, but Price is highly recommended if you’re a fan of any of those.
Her songs admittedly sound more traditional than some — very much ‘60s and ’70s throwbacks, with lots and lots of hitting the bottle, not to mention “losin’ weight and losin’ sleep, losin’ ground and losin’ time,” then trying “rehab, probation and self-medication.”
But she’s no purist. Price grew up hearing country as a kid, and three years ago Nashville Scene’s Jewly Hight dug up an early press release describing her music as “underdog gypsy-punk to Motown boxcar blues, vaudevillian acid rock to train-wreck folk.” While she’s clearly reined in those influences since, she hasn’t drained all the rock or funk out — “Four Years of Chances” especially, choogles quite a bit like “Up on Cripple Creek” by The Band. Appropriate, somehow, her album is a drunkard’s dream, if you ever did see one.