Leaving the Trailer Park Behind
Kacey Musgraves impresses with second album ‘Pageant Material’
If there’s anyone who knows how to speak her mind, it’s Kacey Musgraves. Her debut album Same Trailer, Different Park, was bold, and it hailed her as the saviour of modern country music. Between two of the best tracks on the record, “Merry Go Round” and “Follow Your Arrow”, Musgraves shrugged off traditionalist opinions and notions of small-town life and critiqued it through her whimsical lyrics (“If you save yourself for marriage you’re a bore/If you don’t save yourself for marriage you’re a whore-able person”). Her second album Pageant Material is just as marvellously provocative, if not more so. Musgraves builds herself up as a champion of self-acceptance, minding your own business, and not giving a damn about what anyone thinks of her.
Conventional country music is typically about the ‘nothing fancy’ modesty and singing about all the things you aren’t, while mainstream country tends to estrange other audiences - describing lifestyles and values that not everyone can relate to. What sets Musgraves apart from other country artists, is her ability to maintain the traditional country music standards, but with a fresh approach and still making her music relatable. When she describes what she isn’t (or ain’t), she doesn’t alienate the listener – the lyrics feel personal and real. For instance on the title track; despite Musgraves outlining the reasons for her not being ‘pageant material’ – an experience that few can relate to – she still connects to her audience with simple lines about being your true self (“I’d rather lose for what I am/ Than win for what I ain’t”). It is this ‘realness’ that imparts the quiet politics to the album.
In the female country artist category alone, she is unique in her songwriting. “I’m just kind of over the angry Southern ball-busting chick songs,” Musgraves says (to The Hollywood Reporter). “Not that I don’t have times where I’m angry or sassy. I do have moments of just kind of going for it, but I don’t want that to be my thing, really. I just feel like as a whole, I would like to offer a different perspective. I’d rather be more of the hippie country chick - as in, instead of pointing a finger, just maybe saying, ‘We’re all screw-ups. We’re all in this kind of together. We’re all just figuring this out.’” And she says exactly that, with songs like “Cup of Tea”, “Somebody To Love” and “Biscuits”.
While some songs invoke similar messages/sounds as on the previous album (“This Town” brings back the ‘small town’ feeling as on “Blowin’ Smoke”, and “Family Is Family” has the same fun spirit as “My House”) there are a few delightful surprises. “Dime Store Cowgirl” is one of them. A catchy country hit, Musgraves brings her ‘realness’ once again when she sings about escaping the trailer park, learning about the world, and then returning to her roots (“You can take me outta the country/ But you can’t take the country outta me”).
Another surprise is the sweet, lightly –swinging song “Late To The Party” which is about the happiness of commitment. Musgraves voice is melodious, and the whole thing is total ear candy. The last track on the album “Fine”, a very soft number about masking one’s heartbreak, is yet another example of Musgraves’ excellent songwriting. “Just like the circus you always leave town/ I can’t help but cry when that big top comes down” she sings. And just when you think its over, the hidden track (i.e. hidden gem) “Are You Sure” starts. With Musgraves’ smooth vocals, and Willie Nelson’s songwriting, the duet is the perfect blend of modern and straight-up classic country.
Pageant Material is an even better album than her last, with more variety musically and content wise. Musgraves exhibits confidence and tells it like it is, all while holding herself to her own standards – as she sings about in “Good ‘Ol Boys Club” (“And if I end up going down in flames/ At least I know I did it my own way”). At its heart, Pageant Material is about how you can never really escape where you come from, what people say about you, the people you’re related to, or the ones that break your heart – but you’ve learned to accept this and you know who you are. And although Musgraves has accepted herself not to be ‘pageant material’ - her album sure as hell is first class material.