Music Reviews
4:20 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

Kacey Musgraves: A Millennial Musician Reframes Country

Originally published on Thu March 21, 2013 5:48 pm

Country singers generally romanticize small-town life. But in her hit single, "Merry Go 'Round," from her major-label debut Same Trailer Different Park, Kacey Musgraves does nothing of the sort. It's a remarkable song, but it actually pales alongside others on her great new album.

I was especially struck by "Follow Your Arrow," an anthem of self-determination so of the moment, it might have been co-written via text messages. Excuse me? A mainstream-sounding country song with a chorus suggesting I roll up a joint and kiss people of my same gender? As a country-music fan, I must admit this is a fresher vision of personal freedom than beer, beach vacations and firearms.

You might dismiss Musgraves as merely a provocateur if her song craft weren't so rock-solid. Her wordplay feels effortless and conversational, with song titles like "It Is What It Is" and "Step Off." She sings country songs like you'd expect from a culturally aware 20-something — "Follow Your Arrow" even uses the common Twitter hashtag "You Only Live Once."

But the spirits of carpe diem and dysfunctional romance have long histories in country music, and Musgraves sits squarely in that tradition. Some critics have been calling her "the future of country music." To me, she sounds precisely like the present.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

"Same Trailer Different Park" - that's the title of a new CD from Kasey Musgraves, a 24-year-old country music artist from Sulpher Springs, Texas. She might just as well have called it "Same Genre Different Vibe" because, as our critic Will Hermes tells us, Musgraves brings a new angle to country tradition.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY GO 'ROUND")

KACEY MUSGRAVES: (Singing) If you ain't got two kids by 21, you're probably gonna die alone - at least, that's what tradition told you.

WILL HERMES, BYLINE: Small-town life generally gets romanticized by country singers, but on her hit single, "Merry Go 'Round," Kacey Musgraves does nothing of the sort.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MERRY GO 'ROUND")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Mama's hooked on Mary Kay. Brother's hooked on Mary Jane, and Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down. Mary, Mary, quite contrary, we get bored so we get married. Just like dust, we settle in this town on this broken merry go 'round and round and round we go...

HERMES: It's a remarkable song, but it actually pales alongside others on Musgraves' great, new record. I was especially struck by "Follow Your Arrow," an anthem of self-determination so of the moment, it might have been co-written via text messages.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FOLLOW YOUR ARROW")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't, so you might as well just do whatever you want. So make lots of noise, 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...

HERMES: Excuse me? Was that a mainstream-sounding country song with a chorus suggesting I roll up a joint and kiss people of my same gender? As a country-music fan, I must admit this is a fresher vision of personal freedom than beer, beach vacations and firearms. You might dismiss Musgraves as merely a provocateur if her song craft wasn't so rock-solid. Her wordplay feels effortless and conversational. One song is titled "It Is What It Is." This one's called "Step Off."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "STEP OFF")

MUSGRAVES: (Singing) Step off. Step off. Yeah, you're getting too close to me with all your negativity. Just get lost. Just trying to make a little difference here, so why you gotta interfere. Just keep climbing that mountain of dirty tricks. But when you finally get to the top, step off...

HERMES: Kacey Musgraves sings the kind of country songs you'd expect from a culturally aware 20-something. "Follow Your Arrow" even uses the common Twitter hashtag You Only Live Once. But the spirits of carpe diem and dysfunctional romance have long histories in country music, and Kacey Musgraves sits squarely in that tradition. Some critics have been calling her the future of country music. But to me, she sounds precisely like the present.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOWIN' SMOKE")

BLOCK: The album by Kacey Musgraves is "Same Trailer Different Park." Our critic is Will Hermes.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BLOWIN' SMOKE")

ROBERT SIEGEL: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.