In her debut Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves proves that doing something different can be extremely effective. The 24-year-old's mellow vocals are more comparable to the pop sound of Colbie Caillat than contemporary country artists. And although Musgraves' range is only average, her tone and songwriting certainly aren't.
Driving home late one night, I was at first startled to hear the satirical lyrics of Merry Go 'Round streaming from a country station. But unlike the sometimes shallow, wishful-thinking songs that become hits, this one was real. And refreshing. "We think the first time's good enough/So we hold on to high school love/Say we won't end up like our parents."
Merry Go 'Round eventually climbed to number 14 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart. The album's title is also derived from that song, and while it's Musgraves' most popular, she is not a one-hit wonder.
Silver Lining opens things up with the encouraging message that while we all deal with hard times, they are necessary to enjoy the good things in life. Musgraves takes tired cliches and turns them into powerful images. "Lemonade keeps turning into lemons/And you wear your heart on a ripped, unravelled sleeve." It's a motivating song, but again, says it like it is.
My House is a lighter tune about living out of a motorhome. For Musgraves, it isn't about the location so much as the company. "Anywhere beside you is the place that I'll call home." The harmonica intro is a nice touch.
Perhaps her signature acoustic sound is featured nowhere better than in I Miss You, a bittersweet song if there ever was one. Musgraves sings about having the having the "sunshine on [her] shoulders" and a "fistful of four-leafed clovers," but leads back to the simple title that overshadows all else. Musgraves plays on listeners' emotions in a way that can't quite be explained, leaving them guessing at unexpected plot twists.
And while she can use sarcasm cheerfully, we get a sense of general pessimism throughout the album. "Stupid, love is stupid/Don't know why we always do it," she rants in Stupid. It's a little Debbie Downer, but who's to argue?
Musgraves has sparked controversy surrounding her more provocative lyrics. The closing song It Is What It Is belittles intimate romance as a casual pastime. "Maybe I love you/Maybe I'm just kind of bored." In Follow Your Arrow, she condones smoking marijuana and homosexual behaviour, topics rarely addressed in country music. "Follow your arrow, wherever it points." While I am impressed that Musgraves is using art to speak to social issues, I don't agree with a number of her conclusions.
As quoted in The Observer, Kacey Musgraves does not want to be "the McDonald's of music." Her style is not likely to top the charts, but has great potential for longevity. Same Trailer Different Park is one of those albums people will listen to decades from now and still say, "That was something special." It's probably the most thoughtful country album I've ever heard – just don't be manipulated by all the wit.
Country Luke's Rating: 8/10
Photo courtesy of http://www.kaceymusgraves.com.