2018 is officially off to the races, and already Cognizant Machine is drowning in good new music. Drowning might not be the best description for it, as the quality of these recent offerings has been at the same time a breath of fresh air, and yet, deciding what to play next is an asphyxiating choice.
Take Kacey Musgraves for example. Her songwriting has been consistently great. Since 2008 Kacey is credited having written songs for huge country acts (Miranda Lambert for example) and self-released an ep that was amazing even before her inevitable major Nashville label pick up and subsequent official debut album “Same Trailer, Different Park” in 2013.
Kacey has a wonderful command of language and writes song-poems that are not only beautiful melodic showcases of her incredible voice but at the same time smart, groundbreaking, and well written. Kacey plays with southern classical country tropes the way an expert banjo picker would pluck and play complex arrangements. She seems to revel in being an alpha country woman whose Country credibility could never be called into question, while at the same time criticizing those same tropes and the typically close-minded attitudes they are associated with. For an example of what I am talking about, take a listen to one of her singles from 2015 “Biscuits”. A song as undeniably Country as Biscuits and gravy are staples of southern cuisine, but yet, in the lyrics, she criticizes nosey judgemental attitudes in popular Country music as if she were Shakin’ and Bakin’
“Mind your own Biscuits, and life will be Gravy”. Atta go girl.
Flash forward to the present and Kacey has followed up on her critical success dropping a sugary ear-candy pop country album that I feel compelled to write about. Kacey has always been a talented song crafter, and 2018’s “Golden Hour” continues her string of home runs knocking the proverbial Country baseball out of the stadium. To name an example, “High Horse” again plays with the same basic formula as “Biscuits” yet it dares to sound like a Daft Punk song using computers effects and electronic keyboards to bring something new to Country. “High Horse”’s lyrics again critique what is generally accepted as mainstream Country attitudes but does so in a uniquely Country way. The experiment is a rousing success and High Horse is an utter delight. I dare readers, (yes, even those who may not like Country music) to listen to this track and not smile during the presentation.
For a more conventional but still hauntingly beautiful song press play on the album and listen to track one “Slow Burn” a quiet and introspective contemplation on the end. She metaphors the burning down of a cigarette with the final years of life and as a smoker I can personally attest to finding a peace with this trade-off in a similar fashion.
Kacey’s voice is pitch perfect and she holds and hits notes expertly throughout “Golden Hour”, on “Lonely Weekend” her voice flips through the air doing acrobatics that would make amateur musicians blush. “Butterflies” is an entertaining metaphor for both transformation and nerves. “Space Cowboy” hits like an emotional freight train, prepare yourself for playing that song because it is a heavy pill to swallow and you might want to drink it down with a glass of water.
“Golden Hour” is, after all, is said and done a triumph, a successful experiment that will reverberate in a listener’s heart and creatively inspire Country music unquestionably for the better. Have a listen.