Nick Bollinger lends an ear to the musings of cosmic cowgirl Kacey Musgraves.
Last time I checked Kacey Musgraves she was a breakout country star, steeped in Nashville tradition while gently pushing the boundaries with the odd mention of joint rolling or same-sex love. But her third album came out a couple of months ago, and it pushes other boundaries as well.
Golden Hour is country, gilded with a slick pop production. I don’t doubt a truckload of studio gadgetry has been used to render it to such shimmering perfection, and yet it doesn’t feel as though every syllable she sings has had the life sucked out of it, like so much current hit fodder. The music sparkles, and it suits the ecstatic nature of the songs.
Though it’s actually only 45 minutes of music the whole of Golden Hour does have a kind of aureate glow about it. ‘Slow Burn’ opens the record, and with its banjo and guitar borrows some of the warm woodsiness of Neil Young’s Harvest. But where Kacey is coming from in the song is another place again. The line ‘grandma cried when I pierced my nose’ places her right at the intersection between old-fashioned country values – where people sing about their grandmas – and a world in which facial piercings and recreational drugs are just part of the fabric.
The song itself is a kind of reverie about extending the moment; either chemically or cosmically, it’s hard to tell. But it captures a mood and holds it for the duration of the song, which is something Kacey Musgraves does again and again.
In a troubled world, it seems almost ridiculous to find someone who sees only beauty, and yet that’s our Kacey. In ‘Oh What A World’ she trips out on bioluminescence and the northern lights and wonders about reincarnation and miracles, like a total space cowgirl. In a track that, among other things, introduces the vocoder to country music, the touch of banjo after the chorus is like an anchor to stop us all from floating away with Kasey into the cosmos.
After a spectacular first few songs, this album does take a few missteps. Nothing really awful, but I can do without ‘High Horse’ - a disco song that namechecks John Wayne - in the same way that a song like ‘Space Cowboy’, tellingly the only one Kasey’s co-written with her old production partner Shane McAnally feels redundant, with its cute puns and cowboy clichés.
But overall Golden Hour hits and sustains a sweet spot somewhere between Stevie Nicks, Nashville and shiny modern pop, with a small serving of psychedelics on the side.