(Texas Music Group)
First Appeared at The Music Box, June 2002, Volume 9, #6
Written by T.J. Simon
In 1989, a struggling singer named Toni Price traveled from her Nashville home to Austin, Texas to perform at the South-By-Southwest Music Festival. She found the city’s music scene so warm and nurturing that she made the Texas capital her home base. And now, every Tuesday at 6:30pm, Price plays a 3½-hour gig at Austin’s Continental Club to a packed house of adoring fans. The people of Austin regard her as something of a local treasure, and in 2002 she won Austin Music Awards for Best Female Vocalist, Song of the Year (Call of My Heart), and Album of the Year for her fifth release Midnight Pumpkin. Price’s cult following is nothing short of amazing considering the 40-year-old singer neither plays an instrument nor writes her own music. Her popularity is based solely on her charisma and her ear for good tunes from the rich roots of American 20th century music. On Midnight Pumpkin, Price delivers a perfect baker’s dozen of obscure numbers touching all the requisite bases of Texas blues, Memphis soul, Tin Pan Alley jazz, Appalachian folk, and Southern bluegrass. Her sultry voice is the only constant on this genre-hopping release. At times she recalls the sound of Bonnie Raitt, Marcia Ball, or Emmylou Harris, while at other times shadows of Shelby Lynne or Lucinda Williams creep into her vocals.
Midnight Pumpkin is a darn-near perfect album showing off Price’s diversity and eclectic musical taste. The disc begins with the aptly titled Start of Something Good followed by Thank You for the Love, two soulful and bluesy numbers sung with the aforementioned Raitt-inflection. As comfortable as Price sounds in a Texas blues mode, she is equally at home when performing ballads from many decades before she was born. The lovely tune The Right Kind of Man was written by L. Wolfe Gilbert and Abel Baer in 1929. On We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye, Price sings to a jazzy shuffle with clarinet backing, mirroring the song’s original 1932 incarnation as well as its more popular renditions by Frank Sinatra and Guy Lombardo.
Price is at her absolute best, however, when she dishes up a batch of 1960s Memphis soul. There are moments on this album — most notably Keep the Love Alive and Work On It — that sound like Price was transported through time, straight from a Stax Records recording session. She even does a duet with former Storyville lead singer Malford Milligan on Joe Tex’s I Want To Do Everything for You. In addition, Price is accompanied throughout the album by a talented staff of supporting musicians. Her band, which is led by her long-time collaborator and acoustic guitarist Casper Rawls and the recently deceased electric guitarist Champ Hood, is able to effortlessly jump eras and styles while providing the sonic foundation upon which Price’s sensual vocals effortlessly flow.
Toni Price has been receiving some widespread attention lately with a feature story on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition and an appearance on PBS’s Austin City Limits. However, if you want to see her live in concert, you’ll have to travel to Austin where Price plays nearly all of her gigs. Once in a blue moon, she will venture to far off lands like Dallas, but she hurries home to her legion of fans for the Tuesday Night Hippie Hour at The Continental Club. So, until your next trip to Austin, just pick up a copy of Midnight Pumpkin and find out what the fuss is all about. ½
Midnight Pumpkin is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2002 The Music Box