A remarkably eclectic Texas singer who is so popular on her home turf in Austin, she doesn’t bother hitting the road outside of the Lone Star state, Toni Price takes her life at an even keel. Without major tours, a big label push, or glitzy presentation, Price keeps releasing quality albums at her own leisurely pace. The oddly titled Midnight Pumpkin is her fifth in the past decade, and comfortably fits with the vocalist’s existing catalog, exploring her Americana roots in R&B, blues, soul, funk, country, and even bluegrass. Not a songwriter, Price excels at uncovering obscure nuggets. Here she taps into one from J.J. Cale, “Like You Used To,” and most interestingly, Atlanta’s ’70s almost-stars, Mother’s Finest. Two other fine songwriters, Gwil Owen and Jerry Williams contribute five out of these 13 tracks, bringing a rugged swamp-rock sensibility to the mix. Price also dips back to the ’30s to revive a pair of tunes associated with a singer named Miss Annette Hanshaw that expand the vocalist’s reach into classic American pop evocative of The Beatles’ “When I’m 64” music-hall approach, but far more authentic.
With a charming voice drawn from influences as varied as Bonnie Raitt, Dusty Springfield, and Billie Holiday, Price injects a down-home, peaceful easy feeling into everything she touches, even when burning up the studio trading vocal licks with Austin’s Manfred Milligan on Joe Tex’s Memphis soul-injected “I Want to Do Everything for You,” the album’s most incendiary and sexy track. On the disc opening “Start of Something Good,” Price’s languid sensuality and subtle drawl works as perfectly with the song’s full, mid-tempo Southern groove as it does on the starkly unplugged mountain music of Blaze Foley’s “Darlin’.” And wait’ll you hear the twangy sweaty swagger she oozes into “Measure For Measure.” Phew.
One of the best singers you’ve probably never heard, Toni Price is a rare find. Don’t keep her a secret. Tell your friends and discover a hidden gem. Then go to Austin and see her tear it up live. It’ll be worth the trip.