Release Date: Jun 23, 2015
Record label: Mercury Nashville
Genre(s): Country, Contemporary Country, Country-Pop
“I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson/Stayed in a hotel with a pool,” Kacey Musgraves trills early on Pageant Material, “Slept in a room with the ghost of Gram Parsons/ Drank some wine I can’t afford. ” The song, “Dimestore Cowgirl,” is a laundry list of the experiences the Grammy winner has had since Same Trailer, Different Park made her the darling outsider’s voice in today’s modern Nashville. The toast of the press, a sweet-voiced champion of where individualism meets alternative lifestyles, and truth-teller for the hypocrisy settles into a fuller, lusher sound that draws on Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry, Ronnie Milsap, mid-career Haggard, ‘60s pop and a bit of Laurel Canyon.
One myth that persists in music listening is the idea that artists arrive fully formed, that from their debut album we can learn and understand everything we need to know about them. Then with subsequent albums we can go about the business of evaluating them against the standard set up by that debut, judging them by what we understood them to tell us they were. With songs about small-town social pressures and hypocrisy, and a impactful single about nonconformity referencing same-sex kissing, Kacey Musgraves’ successful, acclaimed major-label debut Same Trailer Different Park pegged her to some as a social commentator or socially aware poet of the trailerpark; what Robert Christgau referred to in his review as “conscious country”.
The real world is hard, and Kacey Musgraves knows it. She knew it on her shit-talking debut, Same Trailer, Different Park, with such auspicious introductions as “Merry Go ‘Round” (which slagged off accepted small-town life cycles in lines like “We get bored so we get married”) and the game-changing “Follow Your Arrow” (the first LGBT-friendly CMA winner for Song of the Year). She knew it on last fall’s soundtrack one-off, “Love Is a Liar,” which continued to slash away at traditionalist conceptions of modern romance (Sample lyric: “Makes you think you’re on a high / When you’re really just on a high wire”).
June saw the release of Pageant Material, the second album from Kacey Musgraves. It arrived amid a flurry of interviews that made much of Mugraves’ position as the ‘alternative’ country star, unafraid to touch upon hitherto-taboo subjects such as same-sex relationships and pot-smoking. Accordingly, much of Pageant Material reads like a paean to non-conformity, starting with the title track’s admission “I’m not exactly Miss Congenial”.
From its opening notes, Kacey Musgraves' Pageant Material sounds like a sigh of relief. Musgraves' voice is largely unadorned, her sound analog and organic—she is backed by a small band, sweetened by pedal steel and the occasional string section. The songs are not overworked: the choruses do not explode, they merely unfurl. Her near-perfect major-label debut, 2013's Same Trailer Different Park, positioned her as something akin to the country Kendrick Lamar—the hyperbole was that she could save country music from itself.
Kacey MusgravesPageant MaterialMercury NashvilleRating: 4 out of 5 stars Yes, Grammy-winning major-label debuts have been followed by sophomore-slump albums. But anyone expecting Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer, Different Park sequel, to fall short of making the grade can exit the classroom right now. From beginning to end, it’s an absolute charmer.
It's the 26-year-old country phenom's fifth record, but for all intents and purposes, Pageant Material is Kacey Musgraves' sophomore record. As she told Exclaim!, "It's the second one that represents me as I am."As the hotly anticipated follow-up to Musgraves' major label debut and Grammy-winning Same Trailer Different Park, there are a lot of eyes on Pageant Material. How is this brave, irreverent, and refreshingly feminist singer-songwriter going to respond to the pressures of her new, enormous audience?Working with a dream team of writers (Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally and Luke Laird), Musgraves hasn't so much crafted a new record as she has a sequel.
If Kacey Musgraves didn't possess a sense of irony, there'd be a sense of triumph to Pageant Material, the title of her second album. Her first, 2013's Same Trailer Different Park, caused a sensation in certain quarters, racking up accolades that outweighed its sales -- a situation reflecting country radio's systematic resistance to female artists more than the music itself. Despite this conspicuous lack of hits, Pageant Material doesn't make concessions to commercial radio.
With 2013's Same Trailer Different Park and "Follow Your Arrow," Kacey Musgraves became not just a breakout star but a figurehead for a generation overhauling country's whole approach — something like Lena Dunham with pedal steel and big hair. Her follow-up is more calculated and confident, intent on both courting and bending the mainstream with wit and timeless arrangements. It misses some of Trailer's storytelling wistfulness and formal experiments — but track for track, it's stronger, an object lesson in Nashville songwriting.
If the burden of expectation hangs heavy over Pageant Material, the follow-up to Kacey Musgraves’ Grammy-winning breakthrough, she doesn’t seem to have noticed. Her country pop remains warm and easy-going, her vocals relaxed and her most likable quality, a perky, faintly provocative wit, is very much intact. There’s a cheerful rejection here of the male country establishment, a breezy tribute to family that blends exasperation and affection, and even her forays into the classic second album themes of fame and dislocation are delivered with a self-deprecating charm.
Kacey Musgraves was drowning in wholly justified plaudits after the release of Same Trailer, Different Park, her major-label debut, in 2013. She won the best country album Grammy for a record that was full of empathetic but sharp-tongued portrayals of poverty and small-town life in middle America. What a disappointment its follow-up turns out to be, then.
Early on in her career, Kacey Musgraves was identified as the shining hope of a country-music press fed up with bro-country and the processed sheen of acts like Lady Antebellum. In the run-up to the release of her new album, Pageant Material, The Fader bestowed on her an honor even contemporary country matriarch Miranda Lambert has never received, making her the first-ever country artist to grace their cover, even if it was with the dubious headline “Kacey Musgraves Is Making Country Music Good Again. ” With a promotional push like that, one might predict Pageant Material to be a big coming-out party, but while the album shares her debut's blend of old-fashioned country stylings and lyrics that adjust for a millennial's perspective, it's also a lot less assertive; it's a laidback, if melodically impeccable, set that makes subtle strides in developing Musgraves's sound.
Country music, where did you go wrong? It says something about the state of the genre when a breezy ditty about simply minding your own beeswax gets yanked from the radio. Kacey Musgraves didn’t hide her dismay at the end of “Biscuits”, the first single from her sophomore effort, Pageant Material, during her Bonnaroo set: “They just pulled that one off the fucking radio … whatever that means. Maybe they don’t like biscuits.” Sure, the song’s chorus fails to check the boxes required of a modern country hit.
Whether Pageant Material represents a temporary retreat or a broader withering of ideas I don’t pretend to know, but it’s a retreat for sure. The smart money’s on the album being treated by The Critics in the here-and-now as a fatal retreat, because…well, put it this way: all the talk you might’ve heard about Kacey Musgraves being the young and popular country singer who it’s hip to like? Well, it’s quite possible that just died on the spot, because she just committed a cardinal sin for the non-country-oriented critical establishment: she went even more country. No foolin’ — a straight-up country album! From a country artist! The nerve! Apologies for the sarcasm.
At just 26, Kacey Musgraves is already one of the most important names in country music. With influences including everyone from Willie Nelson to Dolly Parton to Miranda Lambert, Musgraves has made a name for herself crafting both pop-tinged country rockers like her latest single, “Biscuits,” while still maintaining her penchant for sweet and intimate down-home ditties. That’s not to say Musgraves is one of those sweet and soft country princesses—she’s anything but.
As the country music industry continues its fruitless debate of its female artists’ commercial prospects and merits, Kacey Musgraves’s new album arrives with a delicious bit of irony. It’s not only one of the year’s most anticipated releases, but also the most classic country record to emerge from Nashville in a long time. Out on Tuesday, “Pageant Material” is a spirited wink and nod to yesteryear’s country queens and the homespun motifs that have made the genre such a powerful outlet for storytelling.
On her 2013 debut, Same Trailer Different Park, East Texas native Kacey Musgraves became the woman who might finally save mainstream country from itself. Eschewing Top 40 twang's shellacked production as well as God-and-guns patriotism, she adopted a gritty, unfettered small-band approach. Pageant Material maintains those standards, but spruced-up production and the "aw shucks" wonderment of her new reality in songs like "Dime Store Cowgirl" ("I've had my picture made with Willie Nelson/ Stayed in a hotel with a pool") speak to the now-26-year-old having had a chart-topping debut.
In the opening lines to Kacey Musgraves's fifth record, she sings, "It's high time to slow my roll / let the grass just grow / and lean way back." It's a relaxed, summery throwback to classic country, with strings and a bit of a Tex-Mex vibe. It's also an apt tone (and attitude) setter. Pageant Material never quite reaches the heights that 2013's Same Trailer Different Park did, mainly because it eschews the pomp and moxie that made Musgraves so initially exciting, reaching instead for a more grown-up sound.