i'm disappointed with the new kacey musgraves album. now, pageant material definitely has its strengths. particularly, in a gentle way, kacey shows the continued development of what could end up being one of the great voices in country music history: distinctive, light as air with a hint of power, effortless in the upper register, wonderfully melodic. there are some good songs, though i will say that none of them are as good as the best on same trailer, different park (such as 'dandelion,' 'it is what it is', 'step off', 'merry go round'). the arrangements are interesting and pretty various: good use of strings, e.g.
but i suspect that kacey just got too much positive reinforcement for "follow your arrow" (i tried to dish some out myself): a breakthrough moment in country music, even just for about the first charted affirmation of gayness. now no doubt the thing strayed close to cliche: 'you only live once' and you should just do you. but what a charming melody and sentiment, and what a charming person out there at the country music awards singing it. but you only really get one go at a moment like that. here she follows it up a good five times and more: seriously you just do you, over and over and over.
heavens, "(mind your own) biscuits" sounds like a kacey musgraves parody. when we were listening through the album the first time, my 15-year-old jane said, of "die fun", 'the kacey of two years ago would sneer at that lyric'. (anyway, who dies fun?, and i'm worried a little about the pro-substance-abuse theme at times.) but she sings the darn thing ravishingly.
maybe she a bit misunderstood the strengths of her own songwriting. listen to a song like "blowin' smoke" from trailer: particular lives, particular stories. here she mostly rests content with the most general banalities; the album is didactic, which is not necessarily the main thing you want from a country song. also her melodic sense, which is extremely distinctive, featuring half-step progressions and melancholy minor keys, is beautifully suited to her melancholic stories. but not to another self-esteem anthem or deck of affirmation cards.
but the title cut, for example, is pretty darn good. i could also recommend "fine," "this town", and "family is family." there's a duet with willie nelson (inhabited by his beautiful guitar) on the old willie song "are you sure" (it has the same tune as "ain't it funny how time slips away" and "don't you ever get tired of hurting me"), which begins to show what she might do in a completely trad vein. but also her contemporaneity is pretty unique.