Reviewed by Bill Tokash
Chicago’s reputation as one of America’s great “melting pot” cities has always been partly a myth. The true part is the incredible ethnic diversity. Per the 2010 Census, over 40 different languages were the primary language spoken across homes in Chicago neighborhoods. The myth part is the extent of the actual “melting” that occurs. Chicago sadly remains a segregated city, and its legendary neighborhoods have almost always had their identity tied to one predominant ethnicity.
Chicago’s ethnic diversity has always fueled its musical identity. And musically, Chicago has done quite a bit better on the “melting pot” part. Chicago’s rich soul and jazz music history has influenced Chicago’s new wave of creative hip hop artists. Its well-documented blues history helped lay the foundation for rock ‘n’ roll music and continues to inform thriving underground country and American music scenes. My musical interests tend to gravitate toward what I like to think is a “melting pot” blend of twangy American music, and it was with great anticipation that I arrived at Pilsen’s Thalia Hall Friday night to check out the second night of Margo Price’s two-night stop here.
Margo Price’s breakout first album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, was grounded in timeless honkytonk stylings. Simple, heartfelt lyrics, killer pedal steel licks, twangy guitars, and Margo’s gooseflesh-raising vocals channeling early Loretta and Dolly. But on her critically-acclaimed second album, All American Made, Margo extends her sound to what feels like Hippie Roundhouse Country – a blend of twang, R&B, gospel and jam band influences that make her sophomore effort much harder to categorize.
This newfound, blend of styles infused the entire two hour set Friday night. Margo opened the show with enthusiastic versions of Don’t Say It and Do Right By Me before leading a spirited version of Hurtin’ on the Bottle with a clever Whiskey River breakdown. Other sonic highlights of the sold-out show included an extended jam on Cocaine Cowboys, where Margo joined in on a second set of drums, and back-to-back covers of John Prine’s Illegal Smile and Tom Petty’s Mary Jane’s Last Dance, which represented perhaps an overt and cryptic, two-part ode to Margo’s self-professed weed-love.
The encore arrived with Margo ducking out to change her outfit (can I call it an outfit, Jason Isbell?) from a fashionable, red pant suit, to a full-on River Deep, Mountain High-era Tina Turner sequined dress. Margo and the band barreled into an expanded version of Tennessee Song, and then, appropriately, a Tina-inspired version of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Proud Mary. I left convinced that Margo’s inspiring, genre-blending “melting pot” sound eliminates any chance of her being tethered or constrained stylistically or categorically as she continues her breakout.
Don’t Say It
Do Right By Me
Hurtin’ on the Bottle (Whiskey River)
Heart of America
A Little Pain
All American Made
Another Trip Around the Sun
Illegal Smile (John Prine Cover)
Mary Jane’s Last Dance (Tom Petty Cover)
How the Mighty Have Fallen
Desperate and Depressed
Four Years of Chances
New Cut Road (Guy Clark Cover)
Proud Mary (Creedence Clearwater Revival Cover) w/ The Blackfoot Gypsies