I discovered Toni Price as a junior at the University of Texas, still sputtering from a breakup that left me cradling wet tissue on the couch and canceling plans so I could stare at the phone, cruelly silent. I filled those lonely--nay, pathetic--hours with Price's bluesy minor-masterpiece Hey, a 13-song collection that meandered through the whole wretched romantic cycle: from the full blush of "Misty Moonlight" to the gin-soaked floundering of "Boozy Blues" to the girl-and-her-truck travelogue "Tumbleweed," which offered up all the breezy female empowerment a 21-year-old could ever need. (I was kind of into female empowerment back then; Tori Amos took turns on the CD changer.) Eventually, I changed out of my pajamas and ventured to the Continental Club for "Hippie Hour," where Price has held court every Tuesday night for so many years people stopped counting. But 100 consecutive spins of Hey didn't prepare me for that live experience. Pretty and diminutive, Price is a double-barrel shotgun of a singer, the kind of hard-living, hard-luck woman who deserves the title "diva," unlike the handful of plastic yodelers you may find on VH1. Backed by an ever-capable lineup of local musicians, Price commands the stage, singing with her eyes closed, head lilting to the side, offering her spacey, sometimes tipsy bon mots between songs. "Thanks, y'all," she says after every round of applause. And she gets plenty. Fact is, Price is about as beloved as they get in Austin, Texas, and the fact that she isn't revered outside that city is merely a testament to her inability to leave it. She doesn't tour, and her albums, including the most recent Born to be Blue, have never caught the wildfire of her live performance. Unless, of course, the listener happens to be a lovelorn college student with a soft spot for blues and beer. In that case, I know just the album.
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