Album Review: Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer Different Park

Blake Boldt | March 4th, 2013

kaceymusgravesalbum“You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t,” Kacey Musgraves admits on “Follow Your Arrow,” a gentle rebuke of small-town gossip on her debut major-label album, Same Trailer Different Park. Amused by the self-righteous judgment handed down from nosy neighbors, she plays it off with a wink and a shrug: “So you might as well just do whatever you want.”

Musgraves, an east Texas native and former contestant on Nashville Star, has been under the microscope of late for much different reasons; at 24, she’s emerged as one of mainstream country’s most potent and articulate voices. The hype around Trailer, a sharp effort that belongs in any conversation about the year’s best country albums, reached a fever pitch largely on the strength of the album’s first single, “Merry Go ‘Round.” Surveying the bleak landscape of small-town America, Musgraves and co-writers Josh Osborne and Shane McAnally address how even the best defense mechanisms—-marijuana, cosmetics, extramarital sex—-rarely ease the bone-deep melancholy of its residents. “Same hurt in every heart,” Musgraves sighs, and it’s clear the sentiment is concern, not contempt, for their well-worn routines.

As the chasm between wealthy elite and the lower class widens, both sides experience excess. For the hard-bitten characters Musgraves sings about, excess turns into addiction, which then leads into an oblivion from which most never recover. It’s a far cry from the reality-show pageantry where she got her start. While wholesome images and fairytale endings dominate country radio, she instead stages a quiet rebellion with eleven more smart, tuneful songs that tweak genre conventions both musically and lyrically.

Trailer plays like the spiritual successor to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, an Americana milestone that also mined the lives of this often ignored population for stories of loss and heartache. Both albums are rooted in acoustic arrangements and spellbinding songs. There are differences, though. While Car Wheels pointed towards place markers of the South, the scenes of Trailer, with no defined location, could have occurred in Anywhere, U.S.A. Williams’ knotty drawl was the sound of full immersion; Musgraves keeps a safe distance with her measured readings. Her twang-rich voice, a supple, sturdy instrument that rarely overheats, highlights the tension felt by a hopeful 20-something plotting her escape route.

Some of Musgraves’ performances come with the brash, irreverent statements of youth: ‘Step Off,” with its Jason Mraz-meets-banjo melody, is a pithy reply to a loose-lipped friend. “You screwed everybody over in this town,” Musgraves sings with a sneer. Others find support in more mature, folksy stylings. On the hillbilly stomp “Stupid,” she directs her anger inward as she tries to forget an ill-fated romance: “You can’t tell anymore if you’re the rabbit or the snake.” Although country living might have its limits, Musgraves also knows those little dots on the map hold untold treasures. She embraces her homespun manner on the harmonica-fueled “My House,” a charming ode to trailer life that closes with the album’s most heartwarming line: “Anywhere beside you is the place that I call home.” Beneath her modern-day attitude beats a traditionalist’s heart.

For the most part, Musgraves is an even-keeled observer, just as likely to raise questions as offer opinions. On “Arrow,” she preaches for an all-inclusive society, though there’s sure to be some gnashing of teeth about what that really means. She also reflects about reconnecting with an ex from both sides of the coin (“Keep It to Yourself,” “It Is What It Is”). It’s with “Blowin’ Smoke,” a greasy roadhouse blues number, when Musgraves has a rare outburst of emotion. Working in a rundown diner, she watches one waitress after another succumb to her bad habit while scoping out the exits. “We all say that we’ll quit someday,” Musgraves growls along with her all-girl chorus. “When our nerves ain’t shot and our hands don’t shake.” Her sistren will eventually give under the oppressive weight of their greatest expectations, and the outcome doesn’t look good for her either. In a sea of hunky heartthrobs selling portraits of backwoods bliss, Musgraves is offering a real if not welcome alternative.

4 Stars

Preorder Same Trailer Different Park

  1. Baron Lane
    March 4, 2013 at 9:01 am

    A thematic and stylistic line to Lucinda Williams’ opus “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” is not one I hear ,but a fine review. Great job Blake!

  2. Blake Boldt
    March 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

    I think both women take the same source material (heartbreak, pain, rejection) and filter it through the lens of rural America with a matter-of-fact attitude. They do it without descending into hick cliches, critical judgment or parody. (The Pistol Annies’ album, while excellent, which would seem to be the most likely comparison, isn’t nearly as personal of a work.) How they record such a project stems from differences in musical styles and stages in life. Musgraves obviously has influences in pop and alt-rock, and her perspective is shaped with the irony and wry wisecracking of her generation.

  3. Blake Boldt
    March 4, 2013 at 10:01 am

    Long story short: The main subjects and the approach to them is the same, but the albums are delivered differently.

  4. Saving Country Music
    March 4, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Now that you’ve done your review, can I have your pre-order copy? Somehow I inexplicably I got left off the list. ;)

  5. nm
    March 4, 2013 at 1:51 pm

    Eh, Blake, Williams writes/sings about herself and Musgraves looks at the lives of others. That is such a huge difference in approach that the emotional impact of the songs is very, very different.

    There are other big differences as well: Williams locates her experiences in the South, and Musgraves locates her experiences in the working/lower class; Williams places her music in a roots-rock context and Musgraves’s music comes out of a country context; I could go on.

    That said, I agree with you that this is a fantastic album, and if what you mean by “the spiritual successor to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” is that both of them express a woman’s point of view honestly, you’re right about that.

  6. Blake Boldt
    March 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    On Trailer, I’d only pick out two songs—“My House” and “Blowin’ Smoke”—that don’t seem drawn from Kacey’s own personal experience. There are differences, sure, and I pointed out a few in the review, but I can imagine Lucinda Williams in her mid-20s making this sort of record. At that stage in life, what you don’t know firsthand you tend to draw from other sources. Both women use country and rock materials to describe a series of flawed, conflicted individuals of the lower class doing the best they can in tough circumstances, even if they go about it in their own ways.

  7. nm
    March 4, 2013 at 4:00 pm

    I think the difference is not in where the experiences are drawn from but in how they’re expressed. Williams always tells you “I feel, I hurt” and Musgraves is more likely to tell you “you feel, she hurts” and that makes a huge difference in how the songs come across. Williams writes as one who experiences, and Musgraves writes as one who observes. That gives Williams’s songs a level of emotional impact that Musgraves’s don’t reach, but at the same time Musgraves is able to express a level of empathy for others that Williams never does.

    I enjoy them both, but not in the same way at all.

  8. Rick
    March 4, 2013 at 8:30 pm

    From the article: “It’s a far cry from the reality-show pageantry where she got her start.”

    Ummm, Kasey was performing as a cowgirl yodeler and western swing artist in Texas back from the time she was in her early teens. It was way back then that she and Miranda Lambert first became friends and co-wrote songs together. Kacey had been in the business for many years prior to her short stint on Nashville Star, although that was the first time she received nationwide exposure as a music artist.

    I remember reading Kacey’s MySpace page a couple of years ago after she had moved to Nashville to pursue a songwriting career. She was being exposed to so much new music that she went off on a bunch of tangents unrelated to country music and even cut her hair really short. It’s nice to see she’s settled down a bit! (lol)

  9. Ken Morton, Jr.
    March 4, 2013 at 10:42 pm

    Blake, nice work on this review. I couldn’t agree more on your verdict as the album is sublime. I love how the production leaves some room to breathe in each song and how her rebellious spark shines so brightly through such smartly written lyrics.

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