MOJO’s first foray into Nashville’s annual AmericanaFest paired a legend with one of the genre’s rising stars. On Friday, Country Music Hall of Famer Emmylou Harris and Margo Price discussed songwriting for a capacity crowd in the Blue Room at Third Man Records.
Price was the first country artist signed by the label. In 2016, she released her debut full-length album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, to rave reviews; she followed it with the equally acclaimed All American Made a year later. Her forthright songwriting has earned comparisons to Loretta Lynn, and some of her musical heroes, like Willie Nelson and John Prine, are now collaborators and friends.
Price has often cited Harris as a major influence, not just as a singer, songwriter and peerless song interpreter, but as an artist who’s led three of country music’s great bands: the Hot Band, the Nash Ramblers, and Spyboy.
“She always had the best band,” Price said Friday. “That really influenced me to get hot pickers and make sure that everybody onstage was a better musician than I am.”
The two artists began the hour-long programme by singing Love And Happiness, a song Harris wrote with Kimmie Rhodes and recorded with Mark Knopfler for their 2006 record All the Roadrunning.
Unlike Harris, who rarely co-writes, Price frequently writes with husband Jeremy Ivey. She played one of those collaborations, the unreleased Salvation Store, during the program.
“It’s a song that I started the chords for and then I passed it off to him to fill in words,” she explained. “That’s not always how we write. Sometimes we sit in the same room and we bounce ideas off of each other and say, ‘That’s good’ [or] ‘That’s stupid.’ We have no filter.”
Harris said that most of her songs are written about personal feelings that are hopefully universal. However, she’s also occasionally inspired to write songs about situations she has heard about or observed. She performed one of those songs, the devastating My Name is Emmett Till. She wrote the song from the point-of-view of the 14-year-old Till, who was lynched in 1955.
Price has also written socially conscious songs, and experienced blowback from it. “I feel like when women voice their political opinion, especially through song, it’s like, ‘No. Shut her up. Just shut up and sing,’’’ she said. To applause, she added, “You can’t shut up and sing. If you want me to sing, I’m going to make noise.”
Later, Price performed Pay Gap from All American Made. A smile stretched across Harris’ face as she watched Price sing, “It's not that I'm asking for more than I'm owed/And I don't think I'm better than you/You say that we live in the land of the free/Well, sometimes that bell don't ring true.”
“That’s the kind of song that needs to top the country charts,” Harris declared. It’s so real and she’s lived it…I say kudos to you.”
Though they’re both at vastly different points in their careers, the two talented artists seemed to be kindred spirits during Friday’s session. And their Love And Happiness duet at Third Man wasn’t their only collaboration of the week. On Sunday, the final day of AmericanaFest, Price joined Harris onstage at the latter’s “Woofstock” benefit concert.
Picture credit: Jared Rauso