KACEY MUSGRAVES seen and heard

KACEY MUSGRAVES seen and heard

by Norman Warwick

Kacey Musgraves

Kacey Lee Musgraves (born August 21, 1988) is an American singer and songwriter. She has won six Grammy Awards (including the Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 2019 mentioned on our front page.), She has also received six Country Music Association Awards, and three Academy of Country Music Awards.

Musgraves self-released three solo albums and one more as Texas Two Bits, before appearing on the fifth season of the USA Network‘s singing competition Nashville Star in 2007, where she placed a seemingly disappointing seventh. 

Nevertheless, she later signed to Mercury Nashville in 2012 and released her critically acclaimed debut album Same Trailer Different Park in 2013. Her debut won the Grammy Award for Best Country Album. The album’s lead single was Merry Go Round and won her the Grammy Award for Best Country Song. It also featured the platinum certified single Follow Your Arrow which won her the Country Music Association Award for Song of the Year.

In 2015, she released her second studio album Pageant Material (2015). Her sophomore effort also received critical acclaim and a Best Country Album Grammy nomination. 

Musgraves also released a Christmas-themed album, A Very Kacey Christmas, in 2016.

Her fourth studio album, Golden Hour (2018), was released to widespread critical acclaim and won all four of its nominated Grammy Awards categories, including Album Of The Year and Best Country Album. The album’s first two singles, Butterflies and Space Cowboy, won  Best Country Solo Performance and Best Country Song, respectively. Golden Hour also won the Academy Of Country Music and the Country Music Association Award for Album of the Year, making Musgraves only the fifth artist to win all three major Album of the Year (Grammy, CMA and ACM) awards for the same album as well as the second artist to win the Grammy, CMA, ACM and all-genre Grammy Album of the Year.

From the very start of her career, Kacey Musgraves seemed destined to become a new country music sweetheart. However, whilst she does have a few sweet songs and a heart of gold, there’s nothing wide-eyed and innocent about the 32-year-old singer/songwriter, now one of Nashville’s biggest stars. There is about her something of Miranda Lambert or even Margo Price, both of whom have been or will be featured in Sidetracks & Detours. Like them, Kacey has never been content to abide by country music norms, a trait which became abundantly clear when she released her first hit single Follow Your Arrow, which encouraged self-expression in all its forms and shouted out support for gay marriage (to some disgruntlement in the country community), in 2013.

Since then, Musgraves has toured the world and has released three studio LPs, plus a Christmas record and even a Christmas special. Already a revered lyricist in many circles, Musgraves shot to stardom in 2018 with the release of her critically acclaimed album Golden Hour. Paste (the magazine with musical taste!) named it one of the best albums of the 2010s. It’s one of those records that begs re-listens in times of both grief and great joy.

I guess we all agree that 2020 has definitely been a mix of those two emotions, so it feels like the right time to reflect on Musgraves’ catalogue? She has taught us so many lessons, like to ´mind our own biscuits´, ´remember the rainbow over our heads´ and what to do with a lonely weekend. So the wonderful paste on-line magazine recently compiled fifteen favourite Kacey Musgraves tunes and invited us to follow our arrow to see how near it lands to our own list of favourites.

Misery is one thing, but Musgraves examines a chronic pessimist on her track called Miserable from her Pageant Material album, which always, without fail, inspires Paste reviewer Ellen Johnson to take a long, good look in the mirror and ensure that she is nothing like its protagonist. We all know someone like this person: a persistent complainer, a killjoy, Eeyore’s very likeness personified. In this situation, Musgraves knows that what’s best for her own emotional health isn’t easy, but it’s necessary: cut that negative energy out of her life. 

It’s always good to manage one’s expectations—especially when entering a new relationship. Your partner isn’t your therapist, and they’re certainly not a superhero. Musgraves says it best on Wonder Woman, an underrated Golden Hour gem: ´But, baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman/ I don’t know how to lasso the love out of you / Don’t you know I’m only human?´

Ellen Johnson reminds us that Musgraves’ catalogue is full of life advice, but the reviewer says none is as delicious as this: “Mend your own fences and own your own crazy / Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.” If you stay out of other people’s drama and aren’t quick to compare yourself to others, your life will be that much closer to pure bliss(cuits). 

 “Rainbow” was released as a single with an inspiring accompanying video after Golden Hour’s release and subsequent Grammy wins, and while it never got a chance to work the album cycle, it still landed on country radio and brought more fans to Musgraves’ music after she took home a few golden gramophones.

Musgraves encourages the unconfident, downtrodden and dispirited among us, singing, in a tone not unlike that of a lullaby, ´Let go of your umbrella, ‘cause darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya / That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head.´ As Ellen Johnson says in explaining her selection of this song, ´light follows us around, even if we don’t see it ourselves.´ 

The reviewer´s next selection is Butterflies, a song that ´captures love’s first delight so perfectly, it’s hard to think of many other songs that even come close.´ The best romances often sprout from unexpected places, and Musgraves’ fluttery description of those special feelings is clever, yet classic country, too. 

Willie Nelson

Musgraves has never been shy when it comes to talking about (and singing about) her favourite substance. The Texas-born singer takes after country great Willie Nelson in her admiration for the green stuff, and High Time is a nod to letting go and leaning back. Ellen Johnsoin, says that really the song suggsts you don’t need marijuana—or anything else—to relax. All you need is yourself and somewhere to kick back and close your eyes: ´Let the grass just grow and lean way back´,” as kacey sings it.

Musgraves is all-too familiar with life’s ups and downs, lights and darks, and how they often co-exist. “Is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight?,´´ she asks on Happy & Sad. The singer-songwriter tells us she is ´Happy and sad at the same time / You got me smiling with tears in my eyes.´ That track is a lesson in feeling comfortable with dark emotions, but Ellenm Johnson reminds us that Musgraves actually spends the bulk of the Golden Hour album it comes from basking in the light, giddy with new love. 

Parties can be fun, but sometimes the most meaningful togetherness happens at home, quietly. Musgraves and her partner aren’t the most punctual in this Pageant Material tune, and they ultimately decide to skip out on the event where their presence is awaited. That is of no matter, says Ellen Johnson, for the only gathering that will ultimately serve them is best enjoyed on the couch with joints in hand. 

Two twinkly tracks from Kacey Musgraves’ revered 2018 album Golden Hour, High Horse and Space Cowboy, work as a sort of pair. Both play with barnyard imagery, expand the definition of country pop and are sonically stunning. Where Space Cowboy releases and reckons, High Horse sasses—Space Cowboy is about the pain in letting go, while High Horse is about giving someone the boot. Kacey Musgraves is not a typical country star. Rarely in music history has an artist delivered disco so closely intertwined with country twang, but, on High Horse, Musgraves convinces us that disco and western styles are destined to be together. In the video, Musgraves assumes the role of a bored office secretary, begrudgingly tolerating bigot bosses and tired co-workers. But in her dreams, she’s a disco queen, karaoke connoisseur and stylish horse wrangler. The video’s office scenes bring to mind images of a feisty Dolly Parton circa 9 to 5, while the disco moments recall the glory days of Studio 54.

For another interesting take on those ´glory days,´ though, I would aslo refer you to a song  called The Throng Of Blowtown by Mary Lou Lord recorded with fantastic production values on an album called Got No Shadow. (left)

This is perhaps what most love doing with music, pulling at a tiny knot in a thread and watch it unravel in a cascade of ribbons swirling around the world.

Ask any music critic what makes Golden Hour so special, and they’ll likely tell you it was something to do with Musgraves’ eagerness to experiment with sounds not often associated with country music. High Horse has disco and Butterflies has watery-sounding pedals, but Oh, What A World has something even more interesting: AutoTune. It’s the sound of a perfect trip, when everything around you seems to glow with a pinkish tint and your soul soars. Like Slow Burn, it’s about relishing what’s around us. Musgraves manages to make a song about everything and nothing at the same time. As we get older, we lose appreciation for things that once delighted us, but Ellen Johnson applauds how Kacey takes in even the most mundane happenings. Johnson describes, in a pretty perfect line of her own, how Kacey Musgraves does so ´with a childlike awe (and a banjo,)´

Whispering Bob Harris

We already know that Kacey Musgraves has a way with words, but Merry Go ‘Round off her first record Same Trailer, Different Park, (that Bob Harris raved over) might be her strongest lyrically. On Merry Go Round, she sings about growing up in a small town (in a trailer) and regardless of whether that was your upbringing or not, the familial themes and underlying anxieties of growing up are relatable to all. It’s certainly not her flashiest song, but it shouldn’t be, says Annie Black, a writing colleage of Johnson´s at Paste. The lyrics alone are clever enough, and you’ll find yourself hanging on to every single word on the very first listen. If we didn’t see from this song in 2013 that Kacey Musgraves would explode into the magical, colourful Golden Hour that we now know and love dearly, in retrospect we should all be kicking ourselves. After all, “same checks we’re always cashin’ to buy a little more distraction.” 

Another Paste contributor, Robert Ham, observes that the latest album from Kacey Musgraves is a throwback, but it’s one that looks to a time in the seventies when country artists were, as they are now, trying to keep up with the sounds of the pop charts. And no song from Golden Hour represents that better than this little gem, a tune that skirts the edge of disco schmaltz without spilling over into a jumble of sequins and overwrought production. It holds steady, riding a perfect groove and even more perfect vocal hook that celebrates and bemoans those days when you’re on your own with not a lot to do

Released in February of 2018 (ahead of Golden Hour itself), this song’s haunting country-pop melody and gut-wrenching lyrics are reflected in the lovelorn music video. Paste review Adreon Patterson tells us Musgraves is seen facing her partner before she appears heartbroken, looking out her kitchen window and sitting on her bed. Throughout the video, shot on location in Mexico City, Musgraves is seen sitting on the house beams, by herself at a dinner table and arguing with her boyfriend. The video reaches an intense climax as Musgrave’s beau arrives home nonchalantly before getting into another argument with Musgraves. He ends up taking off into the woods to see a chaotic, cloudy sky before riding off on his horse again. 

With a voice that’s pretty, but brazen, Musgraves has no problem slinging attitude, crying bullshit or coyly advocating same-sex amour/dope-smoking while skewering hypocrisy. Holly Gleason of Paste tells us that ´with a lilt in Kacey´s phrasing, Follow Your Arrow demonstrates the beauty of living your life as it feels right, with the tambourine finding the beat and the acoustic strumming merrily away. 

Songs about the passage of time are perhaps more relatable then ever right now as we all adjust to new daily routines and even unexpected downtime. Kacey Musgraves’ Slow Burn, the album opener from 2018’s Grammy Award-winning Golden Hour, is all about soaking up the quiet, small moments—and finding the beauty in them. So says Ellen Johnson, in selecting the top entry for this collection that would surely make a great ´Best Of Kacey Musgraves.´ The next time you are soaking up the quiet small moments, why not put on these songs and find the beauty in them?

SONGS BY KACEY MUSGRAVES following Sidetracks & Detours through a cut and PASTE album

1.                Slow Burn

2.                Follow Your Arrow

3.                Space Cowboy

4.                Lonely Weekend

5.                Merry Go ‘Round

6.                Oh, What A World

7.                High Horse

8.                Late to the Party

9.                Happy & Sad

10.              High Time

11.              Butterflies

12.              Rainbow

13.              Biscuits

14.              Wonder Woman

15.              Miserable

Or should that be news FLASH ?

Although this article was put together some time ago we have had an exciting news flash come through just as we were in the process of posting the item.

An article by Adam S Levy  in The Daily Mail edition of Tuesday 5th September revealed that Kacey Musgraves performed  ´naked except for her boots´ on the latest edition of Saturday Night Live.

Kacey as seen On Saturday Night Live

‘Precautions were taken, and this was the first time it’s happened on the show,’ Variety reassured us all in ther Monday publication. The segment featuring the Golden, Texas native featured the musical artist seated on a stool in a pair of boots, playing a guitar with her legs crossed and a guitar strap on her shoulder (left). 

Musgraves subsequently performed her song Camera Roll clad in jeans and a flannel top.

Both of the tracks are from Star-Crossed, Musgraves’ newest album,  Sidetracks And Detours will be discussing on these pages in a post next week commencing 11th October.

Fans of kacey´s who were among the Saturday Night Live audience have taken to social media to describe what happened. One wrote: ‘I was in the dress rehearsal audience. After her performance people gathered around her with large towels to wrap her so could stand and walk off stage.’

Another fan remarked, ‘ I Was at the live. Pretty sure she was actually naked. I was on the audience side closest to her. Right before her first song, they set up a moveable wall, blocking the audience from seeing her´.

‘After the song, they moved it back to cover her again and covered her with some sort of towel/robe. She was super chill, kinda walked off stage in the towel and waved. But yeah, seemed pretty legit.’

It all seems much ado about nothing (on) but might still create more of a fuss, so we´ll bring you any further news in our review of Star Crossed next week.

The prime sources for this article were a piece by Ellen Johnson published by Paste on Line and a news item by Andrew S Levy in The Daily Mail.

In our occasional re-postings Sidetracks And Detours are confident that we are not only sharing with our readers excellent articles written by experts but are also pointing to informed and informative sites readers will re-visit time and again. Of course, we feel sure our readers will also return to our daily not-for-profit blog knowing that we seek to provide core original material whilst sometimes spotlighting the best pieces from elsewhere, as we engage with genres and practitioners along all the sidetracks & detours we take.

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