Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Feisty Nashville singer Kacey Musgraves tweaks conventions from within

Posted By on 04.23.13 at 04:15 PM

Kacey Musgraves
  • Kelly Christine Musgraves
  • Kacey Musgraves
Tomorrow night Kacey Musgraves, one of Nashville's hottest young singers, rolls into Joe's to perform in support of her chart-topping album Same Trailer Different Park (Mercury). In some ways the 24-year old Texas native fits squarely into country's current mainstream, writing overdone pop melodies for songs like "Back on the Map" and "Keep it to Yourself," and serving up predictable romantic dross on "I Miss You." But more often than not she pushes against convention while working from within the machine, whether it's prominence of banjo in her often small-bore arrangements or lyrics that bristle against small-town living and patriarchal desires.

On the single "Merry Go 'Round" she rejects small-town life where "If you ain't got two kids by 21 / You're probably gonna die alone," and where suffocating expectations routinely turn sour. Musgraves use cleverness to soften how harsh certain lines are, such as that song's chorus, which begins: "Mama's hooked on Mary Kay / Brother's hooked on Mary Jane / Daddy's hooked on Mary, two doors down." "Blowin' Smoke" observes a handful of waitresses who keep telling themselves that they'll move on when they're good and ready, knowing full well that they're on the same kind of treadmill as the families in "Merry Go 'Round." Her song "Follow Your Arrow" is a virtual anthem for going against the grain and trusting your gut, invoking one damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't conundrum ("If you can't lose the weight than you're just fat / But if you lose too much then you're on crack") after another, before advising:

Make lots of noise
And 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, yeah
Follow your arrow
Wherever it points

On "Silver Linings" she has fun with wordplay, dicing up one tired bromide after another to snuff out simple-minded optimism, while "My House" is one big slice of cornpone humor—an age-old country tradition—where she dismisses the dream of "a house up on a hill" and instead sings about life in an RV, dropping silly lines like, "Water and electric and a place to drain the septic / Any KAO is A-OK as long as I'm with you." The album also includes a nice kiss-off in "Step Off" and an expression of love's futility in "Stupid," while the album closer bluntly admits to some lustful hookups that mean little more than killing time and salving loneliness. While none of this stuff sounds remotely radical in pop music, there's a refreshing directness compared to most of what fills country airwaves, plus Musgraves generally keeps her balance of twang and pop tunefulness on the right side of mawkish. I'm eager to see whether Musgraves grows as a songwriter—she had a hand in composing all twelve songs here, another anomaly in Nashville—or if she turns into one of her characters, dreaming big but living small. Below you can check out the video for "Merry Go 'Round."

Today's playlist:

Maria Bethânia, Drama 3º Ato (Universal/Philips, Brazil)
Guilherme Monteiro, Air (BJU)
Ola Kvernberg, Liarbird (Jazzland)
Omer Avital Quintet, Live at Smalls (Smalls Live)
Sezen Aksu, Serçe (EMI, Turkey)

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