To those eager to apply a rebel narrative to an artist pushing country music’s buttons and testing its’ boundaries, the 30-year-old singer-songwriter’s cheekiness and campy, Instagram-friendly way she interpreted the cowgirl costuming of her musical Texas youth has held quite the appeal. Due credit should also be attributed to the input of equally militant and brilliant Brandy Clark who authored notable early hits for Musgraves.
For two consecutive major-label albums Kacey applied her millennial detachment, withering wit and high standards for cleverness and craft to an understanding of how small-town life, a recurring theme in country music, can be both sustaining and stifling, how genuine caring and self-righteous meddling are both delivered with sugar-coated pleasantries. Everyone’s favorite dimestore cowgirl, the reigning queen of country misfits who likes what she likes and follows her own muse turns her sights to new ambitions on this, her Golden Hour – widely proclaimed by critics as the best album of 2018 to date it racks up rave reviews on a daily basis.
She wrote the bulk of it after falling for her now-husband Ruston Kelly, a musician and songwriter whom she met at a Nashville songwriters night. His music, she says, reminded her of John Prine. For a songwriter who built her name on witticism and cheeky turns-of-phrase, Musgraves found that her entire worldview shifted when she discovered what it felt like to find a forever partner. To her, this newfound feeling is like some kind of magic. As one track title puts it plainly: “Love is a wild thing.”
“It is the first time I’ve really ever had that perspective, so it felt really good to share. It just feels like kind of a crazy time in our society – politically and socially – and everything is so inflamed – it’s just scary. I mean, there’s something crazy happening every single day and as tumultuous as that is and easy to focus on, I refuse to let it dictate what I want to sing about and what I want to write about. So I kind of went the opposite direction and tried to focus on the beautiful parts of the earth and my relationships and life, instead of being a social commentator on all the crazy shit that’s going on now.”
In a recent Billboard magazine cover story Musgraves outlined the roadmap she followed across the recording of Golden Hour: “I’d been thinking about the Americana movement being so strong, I feel like it can be a little … not sedentary, but one-dimensional? Though I love Americana and roots music, it feels like there’s a contest sometimes with how country or how traditionalist you can prove yourself to be.” Finding the balance between the artist who was never Pageant Material and the one who can craft a country disco instant classic like “High Horse” didn’t seem to faze Musgraves. For a second compass point with this strategy it is hard to omit her idol Dolly Parton whose forays into pop and disco are many and mostly evergreen standards with the benefit of hindsight and history.
Starting out of the gate with the molasses-folk ‘Slow Burn,’ the Golden, Texas native makes her intentions crystal clear. “I’m alright with a slow burn / Taking my time, let the world turn.” For those fearing an album that resembled the shift between Taylor Swift’s Red and 1989, tensions were eased right there. What other pop artist would jumpstart her “crossover” record with an acoustic jaunt that not only takes its own sweet time but is an ode to doing so? The distance between the dance floor and the front porch were measured expertly and tracked back and forth with enough grace to enjoy both.
…read the rest in Issue 89.