Album Review: Kacey Musgraves — Same Trailer Different Park
“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.
- Bobby P.: Thanks for the link to my one hit wonder article!
- Leeann: I'm glad you reviewed this album. I think your rating is what I'd give it too. It's a good album, …
- luckyoldsun: That Bobby Bare/Bill Parsons story has been often told, but I still don't quite understand how two then-nobodies could go …
- Leeann: The Jack Clement album is quite good!
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- Lynchie from Aberdeen: Delighted to hear that Hot Rize have a new album coming out – and thanks for the link to that …
- luckyoldsun: Nobody can do Karaoke George Jones like Kershaw!
- Bruce: LW, Don't apologize for your Bryant comment. You were more gracious than I would have been.
- Bruce: My vote is for Marty Stuart for his exhaustive body of work that is directional yet diversified.
- Leeann: Dang! Let me write my above sentence again!: Kelley MicKwee’s album is sounding good so far too. I really like “Beautiful …