Kacey Musgraves is an artist that I never would have listened to had my girlfriend not had her debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, on in the background while she cooked dinner one night. But I’m certainly glad that she did. Kacey Musgraves is a female country artist whose lyrics are deceptively simple yet quite intelligent, something exceedingly difficult to do in the narrow-minded world of modern country music, especially for a woman. But Musgraves’ sound doesn’t really fit into that world, instead harkening back to the golden days of country and western music. Like many burgeoning songwriters that have popped up over the past few years, what makes her music of the moment is just how firmly rooted it is in the past.
The album’s lead single, “Merry Go ‘Round,” features a nice little play on words in the chorus: “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.” The concept isn’t too elaborate and isn’t even really breaking new ground in the country genre, but it’s just so damn clever that you can’t help but sing along. The pretty banjo line, pedal steel guitar, and subtle piano chords help, too. That’s the other thing that makes this record so fascinating: the production. Every song sounds sparse at first listen, really giving Musgraves’ vocals room to breathe, but the more you listen to the album, the more you hear. The harmonica on “My House” adds to its charming take on living in a trailer, and the good-natured way Musgraves delivers the line, “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you,” makes it clear she’s not making fun of people who live in trailer parks, usually easy targets for mockery, but rather celebrating the lifestyle.
Her voice never overpowers you but draws you closer, imploring you to pay more attention to the words. In “Follow Your Arrow,” this allows you to hear clever turn of phrase after clever turn of phrase. She just makes it seem so easy to craft to a catchy hook with delicate humor that never seems obvious or grating, a trap that so many young songwriters fall into. “Follow Your Arrow” has a message of open-mindedness and nonconformism that certainly will not go over well with the people making the playlists for ClearChannel’s radio stations. Musgraves comes as close as you possibly can to saying the word “whore” without actually saying it while pointing out the hypocrisy of those who judge people for following a different path. The chorus brilliantly moves through lyrics that state, “Kiss lots of boys, or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into / When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight / Roll up a joint, or don’t, just follow your arrow wherever it points.”
What I like most about this album is how easily the songs get stuck in your head and how pleasantly it sounds if you throw it on in the background and don’t even listen to the lyrics, despite how great they are when you’re actually paying attention. It’s so damn hard to pull off both, especially on your first record.
And if you only have the time to listen to just one song, listen to “Blowin’ Smoke,” the album’s second single, which features the brashest, most aggressive verse on the entire album and slowly builds into a chorus that leisurely meanders along, lulling you in and making you comfortable before kicking things into a higher gear for the phenomenal bridge sing along that belies the songwriting sophistication she possesses, a trait that makes her seem well beyond her twenty-four years. Kacey Musgraves is an edgier, more mature version of Taylor Swift, and damn is she a welcome breath of fresh air in an oftentimes stagnant genre.