Golden Hour

Kacey Musgraves

MCA Nashville, 2018

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Perhaps the most valuable yet elusive quality a songwriter needs is the ability to tell the truth. And in a genre like country music, where well-worn tropes about pickup trucks and beer joints are comfort food for listeners, a singer with a golden voice can get away with some falseness. Give the people what they want, sing it on key, and you’ll be able to book gigs in a Nashville honkytonk, maybe even land a record deal.

Kacey Musgraves has always aimed a little higher and shot a little straighter than that. Cynical and witty one moment and earnest the next, she’s proven she knows how to tell the truth with her music – and she refuses to do otherwise. With Golden Hour, one of 2018’s most critically acclaimed albums across all genres, she pairs that trademark honesty with musical dexterity for a mature, vibrant, and downright lovely collection of songs.

“Slow Burn” opens things up with a wistful, warm sound and lyrics that announce to her listeners that things have changed. Musgraves approaches this album with a happier, lighter touch than Same Trailer Different Park or Pageant Material, albums that threw some sharp elbows. Still honest about what she sees, Musgraves simply sees more to be thankful for now. Youthful cynicism has been supplanted by a mature contentedness, a willingness to slow down and appreciate what she has instead of demanding what she doesn’t.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

That contentedness most obviously manifests itself by the number of love songs on the album. Having married in 2017, Musgraves exults in her happiness with songs like “Butterflies,” written three weeks after meeting her future husband, which stretches both its central metaphor and the boundaries of its genre. “Oh What A World” similarly tests limits, both with its lyrics (“plants that open and grow your mind” get a shout-out) and electronic effects that are more Daft Punk than Dolly Parton. Similarly, “High Horse” is backed by a disco-influenced beat that’ll have you tapping your toes even as you wonder what genre to place the song in. Musically conservative country fans may chafe at these nods to pop, but if they’re as honest as Musgraves, they’ll have to admit that these experimental elements give the album a boost of energy.

That’s not to say that her more traditional songs lack liveliness. “Space Cowboy,” despite a name that may have you expecting more electronic wizardry, is actually a made-for-radio country song, and a remarkably effective one. “Velvet Elvis” is another toe-tapping love song that traffics in Nashville tropes, but it never feels like genre masturbation. Perhaps because of her outsider reputation, Musgraves is able to lovingly trade on country clichés and still sound like herself.

Most of the songs on Golden Hour feature your typical mix of acoustic and electric guitars and banjos, but with “Mother,” more of a fragment than a song, Musgraves shows that her voice is a powerful instrument too. Accompanied by a single piano, she manages to say something compelling about mothers and daughters, move you with the sincerity in her voice, and then get away from the microphone and leave you wanting more – all before ninety seconds have passed. It’s an able demonstration of her songwriting prowess, and a fitting touchstone for the album as a whole: truthful, mature, and beautiful.

Country fans already knew Kacey Musgraves was a force to be reckoned with, but Golden Hour is the album that has introduced her to mainstream audiences. She’s not the most talented voice in country; hers is a simple but effective range. Neither is she a chart topper: in fact, to her fans’ consternation, country radio consistently ignores her even as the critics heap praise upon her. But Kacey Musgraves tells the truth, and she tells it compellingly.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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