Published Jun 23, 2015It'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. The stripped-back musical palette remains for the most part unchanged, the wry humour undimmed, and Musgraves' playful, conversational vocals remain front and centre. This is both good — it sounds terrific, and what ain't broke didn't get fixed — and frustratingly predictable.
If there's a distinct theme to Pageant Material, it's that Musgraves is determined to convince us/herself that despite the whirlwind of success, she's still just plain folk. To that end, there's the lovely "This Town," about growing up in a tiny community that looks out for each other while driving each other nuts, and the kind of silly "Dime Store Cowgirl" (which is basically "Jenny From The Block" for the bourbon set).
At times, it simply feels like Musgraves is trying to retread the old wheel. The lead single — the clever but forced mind-your-business anthem "Biscuits" — is basically "Follow Your Arrow Redux." But even if it all feels a bit familiar, Musgraves remains a wise interpreter of the sea of neuroses and absurdities in which middle-class America swims. On the title track, she skewers pageant culture (along with beauty standards for women everywhere), on "Family is Family" she finds new ways to tell a very old story ("They might smoke like chimneys / But they'll give you their kidneys" is Musgraves at her best) and on the album's best track, "Good Old Boys Club," she takes a moment to bite the hand that feeds her by setting her sights on Nashville's ossified male-dominated power elite.
Smart, funny, empathetic and wise, Musgraves is one of the best in the business right now — even when it seems she might be treading water. (Mercury Nashville)