My relationship with country music is kind of a weird one. And by “weird”, I mean mostly nonexistent, seeing as though it’s not a genre I listen to a ton, but there are certain times that a great country song, filled with some boozed-soaked memories of doomed love and times gone by will really hit a spot in your soul that other genres simply can’t. Maybe my inability to ever quite shake country as a thing I like but can’t ever get super invested in has to do with the fact that Johnny Cash was really the only artist me and my old man were ever able to bond over musically. Maybe it also has to do with the wonderful storytelling nature that a lot of the best country songs have. Maybe it’s the fact that to me country music seems to be, more so than any other musical genre outside of hip-hop, largely personality-driven. Or maybe someone as obsessed with the past as I am just can’t help but feel an affinity for a genre of music that is so defiantly old-fashioned. But whatever it is, I like Kacey Musgraves, probably because she embodies a lot of these last few attributes, and without ever beating you over the head with her country credentials.
Yet because of my own lack of country credentials, I have a hard time really gauging to what extent Musgraves is a “mainstream country” artist, since she did release this album on a major Nashville label, while her attractiveness combined with a good deal of spunk lends her a bit of that Nashville star appeal. But I do not even have the faintest clue what mainstream country is right now, nor have I ever really, except for a short period in high school when me and one of my cohorts (who will remain nameless, but he knows who he is) would ironically watch the pandering stick-a-boot-in-their-ass nonsense that was on CMT in the mid-00’s. But judging from the fact that Musgraves’ video for Pageant Material‘s lead single “Biscuits” has a fairly modest 2 million hits on YouTube, I’m gonna say that she’s well-known, but still low enough on the radar that she’d still appeal to a snob like me.
She also appeals to a snob like me because she just writes really good songs. “Dime Store Cowgirl” is the one that’s stuck with me the most so far, with its mixture of name-checking a few classic country artists (Willie Nelson, Gram Parsons), rambling road song reminiscing, and the overall feeling of her declaring “this is who I am, take it or leave it”. That said, a lot of her charm also lies in her genuine pleasantness. As I hinted at earlier, since country music has for the most part stayed rooted in its old-fashioned sounds instead of evolving in leaps and bounds, it tends to be the personalities behind the songs that make or break them. And due to Musgraves’ subtle self-deprecation and effortlessly sweet melodies, she doesn’t quite come off as pageant material, much like the album’s title track would suggest. However, she does come off a bit like the popular girl in high school that was a little too smart and self-aware for anyone to hate, and apparently I am still helpless against that particular type of personality.
Favorite Tracks: “Dime Store Cowgirl”, “Biscuits”, “Miserable”