Kacey Musgraves shines on ‘Golden Hour’
Matthew Munhall | Thursday, April 5, 2018
Kacey Musgraves’s first two major label albums — 2013’s “Same Trailer Different Park” and 2015’s “Pageant Material” — served as a kind of diptych on small-town life, which she documented with equal parts scorn and affection. The country singer’s debut was filled with the cutting observations of someone who desperately wanted to escape her hometown of Golden, Texas, which she compared to a suffocating merry-go-round. On her follow-up, the disillusionment had softened, with Musgraves admitting, “It don’t matter where I’m going / I’ll still call my hometown home.” A keen and observant lyricist, Musgraves was proof that, when it comes to describing the place you grew up, love and attention may be the same thing.
It’s somewhat surprising, then, when Musgraves opens her new album, “Golden Hour,” by acknowledging a world outside of East Texas. “In Tennessee, the sun’s goin’ down,” she sings. “But in Beijing, they’re headin’ out to work.” “Golden Hour” is still largely concerned with place, but is more expansive in its scope, with Musgraves examining how new love can alter your view of the world around you. These songs, Musgraves explained in an Instagram caption, are “injected with a hopeful outlook on this time & space we have on this beautiful planet — despite it feeling tumultuous.”
That sense of wonder pervades “Golden Hour,” beginning with “Slow Burn,” the opening track, which is a perfect song. “Slow Burn” — a blissed-out ode to slowing down and appreciating life — is the kind of song that you put on repeat and let wash over you for hours. With its plainspoken autobiographical lyrics and its patient build accented by banjo and strings, it musically falls somewhere midway between Loretta Lynn and Sufjan Stevens. It also encapsulates the defiant individualism that remains the core of the Kacey Musgraves ethos: “Taking my time, let the world turn / I’m gonna do it my way, it’ll be alright,” she sings.
“Golden Hour” is Musgraves’ most pop-leaning album to date, a fusion of genres that she has taken to calling “galactic country.” Nowhere is this more apparent than on “High Horse,” a kitschy country-disco track that pairs a Spaghetti Western guitar riff with a four-on-the-floor beat. The soft-rock “Lonely Weekend” sounds like a “Tango in the Night”-era Fleetwood Mac cut, while “Oh, What a World” takes a page from the Daft Punk playbook with its vocoder-laden chorus.
Yet, despite all of the genre experimentation on “Golden Hour,” I agree with Bobby Finger, who wrote that “it’s everything good about country music, written and performed by someone who has no interest in leaving the genre behind.” The influence of Dolly Parton — another country star who forayed into disco and pop — looms especially large over “Golden Hour.” Musgraves remains a sharp lyricist, too, with a country songwriter’s ear for a clever turn of phrase. “Space Cowboy” and its witty lyrical conceit — “You can have your space, cowboy / I ain’t gonna fence you in,” Musgraves sings to an ex — is the foremost example. As she sang on her last album, “You can take me out of the country / But you can’t take the country out of me.”
The blissed-out mood Musgraves conjures on “Golden Hour” — “All kinds of magic all around us, it’s hard to believe,” she sings enthusiastically on one song — would be overwhelming if not for the melancholy that creeps in throughout. The nostalgic “Mother,” in particular, on which she sings about missing her mother and evokes a sense of grief across generations, is among the most affecting tracks Musgraves has written. Likewise, the album closer, “Rainbow,” which sounds like a lost Elton John/Bernie Taupin ballad, is moving in its simplicity. Backed only by piano, she offers comfort to a loved one in distress: “You hold tight to your umbrella / Well, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to tell ya / That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head,” she sings. “I feel like everyone is searching for a little bit of beauty right now,” Musgraves remarked in a recent interview, and “Golden Hour” succeeds in providing just that.
Album: “Golden Hour”
Artist: Kacey Musgraves
Label: MCA Nashville
Tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Oh, What a World,” “High Horse”
If you like: Dolly Parton, Fleetwood Mac, Sheryl Crow
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5