This album is a lot better than it sounded to me on my first, casual listen. The first few songs are polished to the point of slickness, and sung by an awfully sweet and pretty voice, and my mind begins to shout objections. Where’s the authenticity? Where’s the grit? What kind of hothouse flower is this 25 year-old CMA phenom? Uggh – get me some growly Ryan Bingham stat!
That reaction is mostly because I’m a jerk, though. Maybe, just maybe, if there were a tiny streak of sexism in me, it could be that I find it harder to appreciate a beautiful feminine voice because it seems a little light and airy. Just maybe, if I had a bit of grumpy old man in me, I would roll my eyes at a 25 year-old writing about real-world experience unless she is straight out of Compton.
Amusingly, Robin’s review over at Deliberate Obfuscation struggles with some of the same prejudices. Unlike me, though, she thinks she could nail a karaoke version of some of these songs. (Yes, I realize that sentence is dangerously ambiguous.)
After a week of struggling with my own inner assholishness, I have come to appreciate this album a lot. Kacey Musgraves is a bright young talent who is likely to only get better. She’s smart, she has an eye for detail and an ear for music. Some of her songs are great, and her career has taken off since she finished 7th in Nashville Star (apparently, a TV singing competition) when she was 19. She’s going places, whether the grumpy old man in me likes it or not.
What is it that overcame my sexism and ageism? Mostly, it was the excellent lyrics accompanied by solid country sound. Her ode to RV life is a light-hearted romp:
Water and electric and a place to drain the septic
Any KOA is A-OK as long as I’m with you
So come on hitch your wagon
To the living room I’m draggin’
If I can’t bring you to my house
I’ll bring my house to you
She also demonstrates an admirable willingness to thumb her nose at the “Moral Majority” segment of the country music establishment, most notably in the final two songs of the album. In “Follow Your Arrow” she points out the futility of trying to escape the disapproval of others, and advises:
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
She even repeats the “Follow your arrow/Wherever it points” in a sing-songy way that could make it a Disney song if not for where that arrow is pointing. She follows that advice with the believably immoral booty-call, “It is What it is”, in which she calls a former lover and suggests a pleasant way to pass the time:
But I ain’t got no one sleepin with me,
And you ain’t got no where that you need to be,
Maybe I love you,
Maybe I’m just kind of bored,
It is what it is
Till it ain’t,
Now, let’s not fool ourselves. There’s definitely a well-thought-out career calculation involved in choosing to line up with the fun crowd in 2013, and she’s not exactly taking any Dixie Chick risk here, but she is walking a little closer to the edge than she needs to, and I appreciate the individuality.
This album was definitely worth the struggle of getting past my own prejudices. It’s not going to wind up on my top albums of all-time list, but I suspect that if Kacey Musgraves continues to step on toes and put out albums, her third or fourth album might be there.
Next up: Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis