My most played album over the last month has been Kacey Musgraves’ third major label long player, Golden Hour. Musgraves began her major label career with Same Trailer, Different Park, which musically played straight to Nashville conventions, while questioning the traditional values of the country music heartland – “If you ain’t got two kids by 21 / You’re probably gonna die alone / At least that’s what tradition told you.” It was memorable, but often because of the provocative lyrical content as much as the music.
Golden Hours depicts a newly married Musgraves, blissed out and delivering a smooth, acoustic, pop-orientated set that’s tinged by enough country touches to give it an aura of authenticity. The lyrics are still the focus for Musgraves. She clearly loves metaphors, and if there’s the occasional over-cooked wordplay – “go ahead and have your space….cowboy” is the punchline of one of the album’s singles – generally it’s an honest, likeable collection where Musgraves’ everywoman voice is instantly relatable, gently describing her feelings.
The best songs are personal and low key – opener ‘Slow Burn’ is essentially a series of thematically connected stoned ramblings (“good in a glass/good on green”) but Musgraves is able to sell it with her low key vocal. The minutiae and smooth retro flutes of standout track ‘Lonely Weekend’ recall Josh Rouse’s work, but it’s the work of a talented lyricist, an adult sifting through their different emotions.
Of those emotions love is the defining theme on Golden Hour – the tagline of “then there is you” at the end of the chorus of “Oh what a world” is so natural that it’s thoroughly believable. ‘Love Is A Wild Thing’ might be my favourite song here, with its gentle melodies and harmonies and it’s affirmation of love summing up the album’s modus operandi.
‘High Horse’ adds a disco beat and it’s a nice change of pace from the smooth, country tinged sound. As well as intimate and personal lyrics, Musgraves can also do light-hearted – ‘Velvet Elvis’ throws in some silly metaphors, and the affectionate and respectful objectification of a lover is strangely unfamiliar territory in pop music.
Musgraves isn’t doing anything new musically on Golden Hour – it’s her ability to turn a creative phrase and sell it with her intimate, understated vocals that’s the album’s appeal. But inspired by love, Musgraves delivers some terrific songs on Golden Hour, and it feels so artless that it’s thoroughly believable and relatable.