One would presume that a country artist who covers the Meters and Leonard Cohen would approach her chosen genre with an eclectic sensibility, if not an omnivorous one. But except for those self-contained hat-tips to New Orleans funk and the late poet-troubadour, Margo Price spent the duration of Friday’s sold-out Brighton Music Hall show sticking fiercely to her vision of a throwback homage to the era of Loretta Lynn and Merle Haggard, a time when the full genre name included “and western” and the ideal venue was a cowboy bar not an arena.
Price made the Lynn comparisons explicit with a spirited “Rated X,” but they also came out in the hard-shuffling jailhouse romp “Weekender,” the honky-tonk strut of “About To Find Out,” and “This Town Gets Around,” which had a skip in its step and a snarl on its lip. She hit a lot of the same notes in “Tennessee Song,” a stomp that also managed to swirl, courtesy of space-rock keyboards and a nearly acid-tinged pedal steel guitar.
As that song showed, Price could be many different things, sometimes all at once. With its wide-stepped lope and hard swing, “Since You Put Me Down” was hard-drinking and vengeful but also heartbroken, while “Desperate and Depressed” expressed an almost cheery despondency. And “Hurtin’ (on the Bottle)” was simultaneously free-wheeling and centered.
Marked by a tight twang with an anodized gleam, Price’s voice was almost enough to justify anything she did, purely by itself. Without doing anything with or to it to make it shine — no showoffy tricks, no artifice, no push for power — it simply came out as an elemental fact. So it was frustrating some of her own songwriting was just barely strong enough to be worthy of it. Solid song-level themes and stories were too often built on individual lines that hit dully; there was little in the words of “Four Years of Chances” that transcended the template of countless songs of its type.
But they were just the scaffolding for what Price built around them. With the band behind her galvanizing the song’s dismissive contempt, the singer effortlessly radiated attitude. That, a voice and a sound were enough to carry her. Add sharper writing and Price will float.
With a high, laconic baritone and a prime stance of semi-stoic fatalism, Hugh Masterson opened with a fetching, solo-acoustic set of small-town ballads of existential heartbreak.
Margo Price, with Hugh Masterson
At: Brighton Music Hall, FridayMarc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc