Halfway through Margo Price’s new album, the soul burner “Hey Child” floats ethereally along the spiraling background vocals of the Nashville Friends Gospel Choir (Gale Mayes, Samson White, Angela Primm), layered over Matt Sweeney’s crystalline lead runs and the gospel strains of a B3 organ. In a song that recalls the tenderness of the Five Stairsteps’ “Ooh Child,” Price’s soaring vocals ride along a gospel-inflected wave of sound that at once evokes days of emotional and physical devastation and the aching desire to move on and get it right. The song embraces an often profligate past even as it seeks a future guided by the hard-won wisdom of those days.
A river of cascading piano chords opens the title track, flowing under Price’s nimble vocals. The luxurious jazz structure stretches spaciously into a pop-inflected atmosphere in which Price can nod with a wink to a town she hasn’t seen in a while and to an ex-friend who’s a bit like the town (“It’s been a while since I’ve been on this side of town / I don’t cross the river much these days / I haven’t been avoiding you, I’m hardly ever around / Sure, we could talk but what would I say”). Sturgill Simpson — who produced the album with Price and David Ferguson — adds vocals and guitar to the scampering, relentlessly driving “Letting Me Down,” a happy-go-lucky tune on which Price’s lyrics cut both ways (“Everybody’s lonely / Awe babe, just look around / You got away / You got a way / Of letting me down”).
The down-and-dirty rocker “Twinkle, Twinkle” — propelled by riffs that could easily come from an early Black Sabbath album, balanced by a swirling Tom Petty vibe at the song’s close — looks back on the ways rock and roots music fueled her growing up in a desolate Midwestern town, even as it unflinchingly acknowledges the price one pays for living the rock and roll life: “If it don’t break you, it might just make you rich.”
The soulful “Prisoner of the Highway” unromantically celebrates life on the road, never nostalgic for it, regretting its costs, but embracing it with all its twists and turns: “I sacrificed my family / I sacrificed true love / I sacrificed my unborn child / To the heavens up above / Oh there was not a limit / To those I would betray / Oh I was deep down in it / As a prisoner of the highway / I just kept a movin.”
That’s How Rumors Get Started showcases what Margo Price does best: She fearlessly reaches into the shadows of life, touching jagged edges of emotions, allowing them to bleed through her lyrics and her transporting music. She embraces the heart-wrenching and ragged beauty of life, never flinching in the face of face of despair or hopelessness but searching to ferret out the little glimmers of love, hope, truth, and beauty in the cracks of our world. Price soars on That’s How Rumors Get Started, and she carries us on her wings.