Margo Price’s story is the stuff of country music lore. Sweet talkin’, hard drinkin’, time in the slammer, a pawned wedding ring, and burgeoning stardom (under the watchful eye of Jack White and Third Man Records, no less, on her album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter).

If you witnessed Price’s set Wednesday night at The Troubadour, you might think that modern country music has spit out its bubblegum pop and mercifully returned to the spirit of its rebel roots. Shit, yeah!

Fellow Nashvillian William Tyler started the night with a deeply meditative set of instrumental guitar. Humbled by the storied stage of The Troubadour, he described the gig as a chance to cross an item off of his bucket list.

Simply put, William Tyler represents the best of whatever Americana is.

His furious fingerpicking style and the occasional sly loop built huge walls of organic sound. Prior to “Gone Clear,” a track off of his newest LP, Modern Country, he introduced the song as one about the “decaying sound of AM radio” that you hear when driving through a remote location.

During an interlude on the tune, Tyler began setting bass notes with his right hand over the neck of his guitar, before a thunderous single chord strike returned it to its main theme. Acknowledging the potential misnomer of his album’s name, the post-mortem on “Gone Clear” was that it was a bit of “new age country.”

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Tyler cobbled-together final song, “A Portrait of Sarah,” was a sampling of his one-man band elements, including a slightly demented, atonal cowboy stomp. Prior to that, “Missionary Ridge,” a song about driving through the mountain of east Tennessee, evoked the sunny day joy of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones’ Live Art.

Without missing a beat, Tyler, who was seated, casually crossed his legs and then accelerated the pace. If we were driving through the mountains, the car had now skipped over the guardrail and was careening down the hill.

Margo Price picked up where William Tyler left off. After being played on by her juggernaut band, it didn’t take long until she was knee-deep her own story. In the confessional “Weekender, ” Price intimated about time she spent in the Davidson Country Jail for a DUI conviction, her vocals soaring:

This bed is hard and the room is cold / And my cellmate’s got a cough
She takes her meds and sleeps all day / Got six more weeks til she’s off
She said she beat her boyfriend up / While high on crack cocaine!
And now she sits and watches / Her life go down the drain

While Margo Price’s music is rooted in country in both spirit and in sound (much is owed to the sense of depth created by Luke Schneider’s pedal steel, especially on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter lead track, “Hands of Time”), her band occasionally blurred genre lines with bass work courtesy of Jeremy Ivey and Micah Hulscher’s organ fills that, together, dripped with Southern funk. Their set-opening version of Billy Grammer’s “Gotta Travel On” hinted at the groove from Billy Preston’s “Will it Go Round in Circles.”

Though she is all smiles and overflowing with Southerly charm on stage, Price’s calling card is her tendency to sprinkle a little salt in Nashville’s sugar jar. In a middle finger directed at country music industry suits, “This Town Gets Around” left little to the imagination: “Well, as the saying goes its not who you know, but it’s who you blow that’ll put you in the show.” Well. She went on to lament, “Maybe I’d be smarter if I played dumb.”

Not much gets by Margo Price, and she lets you know it. She sings of people shaking her hand “with a viper up their sleeve,” others who “wouldn’t know class if it bit [them] in the ass,” or how she repels “all the vampires at the bar” with her salty lyrics.

Price subscribes to a fatalism that is shared by age-old luminaries of country music. There will be heartbreak, and then there will be drinking and a lot of it (“I killed the angel on my shoulder with a fifth of Evan Williams”). Despite the dark tone of such realities and their potential consequences, she still manages to sound like she’s come out on top.

Perhaps she survives as a result of her sense of humor. Price proudly sang her friend’s song, “It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding a Horse,” and made sure to mention that its author, Steven Knudson, still works at Trader Joes. Or maybe Margo Price keeps her head above water via that simple, down-to-earth country way?

Whatever the case may be, she’s got a twinkle in her eye, a killer voice, and a spark-plug attitude that all fit neatly amongst the Loretta’s and Dolly’s of her tradition or even with the rebel heart of Janis Joplin. Price covered Joplin’s “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do” immediately after Knudson’s similarly themed number.

As the raucous honky-tonk show drew to a close, Margo Price shed her guitar during Neil Young’s “Old Ways” to stand up on the monitors at the front of the stage. She began to swing the microphone around by its wire, ready to lasso any remaining doubters left in the room.

Margo Price Setlist at The Troubadour
Gotta Travel On (Billy Grammer cover)
About To Find Out
Since You Put Me Down
Red Bandana (Merle Haggard cover)
Weekender
Hands of Time
Instrumental
It Ain’t Drunk Driving If You’re Riding a Horse
What Good Can Drinkin’ Do (Janis Joplin cover)
Tennessee Song
Give Back the Key to My Heart (Doug Sahm cover)
Rated X (Loretta Lynn cover)
This Town Gets Around
Paper Cowboy
Hurtin’ (On the Bottle)

Encore:
Ain’t Living Long Like This (Waylon Jennings cover)
Four Years of Chances
Old Ways (Neil Young cover)

William Tyler Setlist at The Troubadour
We Can’t Go Home Again
I’m Gonna Live Forever (If It Kills Me)
Gone Clear
Missionary Ridge
A Portrait of Sarah

For more information:

Margo Price
William Tyler