Set against a backdrop of big-voiced, bigger-than-life female country singers like Carrie Underwood, Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves has spent the last several years releasing independent records, flying under the radar with her midtempo Americana style and understated alto voice. However, with her new release on Mercury Nashville, Same Trailer, Different Park, it appears that this talented young vocalist is set to show up on a lot more radar screens.
Admittedly, this has been setting up for Musgraves for several months now. In the past year since signing with Mercury, she’s landed a tour slot on Lady A’s Own the Night Tour, penned tunes that have gotten placed on ABC’s series Nashville and Miranda Lambert’s new album Four the Record, and released charting single “Merry-Go-Round.” This activity has apparently gotten her on the radar of enough fans and industry people to gain Musgraves several nominations on next month’s Academy of Country Music Awards, including Female Vocalist of the Year and New Female Vocalist of the Year.
There’s a double-edged sword tied to all this recent attention, because it gives Same Trailer, Different Park a lot to live up to. Fortunately, it holds up quite well, thank you. And surprisingly, it holds up without Kacey Musgraves trying to keep up with the big voices around. Instead, Musgraves makes it work with a combination of innovative alt-country arrangements, poignant songs and solid vocals that don’t try to overstep.
Now, don’t be fooled into thinking Musgraves’ relaxed musical style puts her into a mediocre, middle-of-the-road category. Not in the least. Behind that smooth voice and plucky banjo lies a biting lyricism that could give Pistol Annies a run for their money. The lead single “Merry-Go-Round,” is a great example in itself, painting a mournful but unflinching picture of the grit behind the veneer of small-town Americana: “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay / Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane / Daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.” Then there’s “Follow Your Arrow,” an expose of the double standards of traditional values coupled with an I’m-okay-you’re-okay conclusion that’s bound to raise a few eyebrows in the Bible Belt: “Make lots of noise, kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls if that’s what 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.” The style is definitely country-folk Americana, but don’t mistake it for your grandmother’s country. It’s not. At all.
But here’s the thing: despite how many feathers it ruffles, or what you think of Musgrave’s outlook, the fact remains that Same Trailer, Different Park is just plain, really good country music—well written, well sung, well performed. And the beauty of it is that Kacey Musgraves has released a highly competitive record by not competing with big female voices, but instead by focusing on her own strengths and doing what she does with excellence.
And that just might just be enough to create a niche of her own. I hope so.