Album Review: Kacey Musgraves- “Golden Hour”

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(Photo courtesy of Stereogum)

It’s finally starting to feel like spring in Washington, DC and Kacey Musgraves’ new album is out today- it really is Good Friday! I’ve been anxiously awaiting Kacey Musgraves’ new album Golden Hour from the moment she announced that it was on its way. With all of the built up anticipation and excitement for this album, I thought this would make the perfect album for my first ever album review. I’ve been trying not to read too much about the new album as I didn’t want other people’s ideas to influence my own. I’ll read some of the other album reviews once this one is posted (like Grady Smith‘s, for example) as I’m curious to know what others thought of the record. 

I’ve been a fan of Kacey Musgraves for several years. The major force that propelled me into full-fledged Kacey fandom was seeing her perform live at “C2C: Country To Country” in London two years ago. The day after that concert, I bought both of her albums on iTunes and they served as the soundtrack to my spring break in England. While I already had a few songs from Same Trailer Different Park in my iTunes catalog, I finished buying up the rest of the album that day along with Pageant Material. 

In the weeks leading up to Golden Hour‘s release, Kacey put out three songs- “Space Cowboy,” “Butterflies,” and “High Horse.” Of these three, “High Horse” was definitely my favorite with its cheeky lyrics and funky disco beat à la the 1970’s. These songs were tasters as they prepared our appetites for the rest of what Kacey would be serving up on this album. 

Oh, What An Album! 

Earlier this week, NPR Music put up the full album for people to stream as a “First Listen“. It was nice not having to wait until today to finally hear this baby in its entirety. My initial reaction to the album was a positive one. And the more I continue to listen to it, the more I fall in love with it. I had heard her sing a little bit of “Oh, What A World” on her Instagram story and was desperately hoping this song would be on the album so that I could hear the full version of it. It was delighted that it was included and I was not disappointed with it. In fact, it’s probably my favorite song on the album (audio video below). The upbeat message of embracing the beautiful things in life (because there is so much ugly out there too) along with the song’s trippy sound really hooked me. Coming in a tie for second place would have to be “Slow Burn” and “Happy & Sad.” “Slow Burn” is the first song on the album and the most autobiographical (watch her performance of this song from last night’s The Late Show with Stephen Colbert). And the more I listen to “Happy & Sad” the more I find myself enjoying it and relating to it. These two are just gonna have to share second place! As much as I enjoy the emotional, introspective, and “all up in your feelings” kinda songs, this album wouldn’t be complete without a dance floor anthem and Kacey’s got that base covered with “High Horse.” Other songs on the album include “Wonder Woman” (no, it’s not about Gal Gadot) and “Rainbow.” Fans who have had the good fortune of hearing her sing “Rainbow” in her live performances will be happy to find this song included. A full track listing is below. 

In typical Kacey fashion, the songwriting on this album is superb- it’s simple yet eloquent. She has a certain way of describing the emotions we all feel in our own unique way in a style that’s universal. “Happy & Sad” is a great example of this as it’s so relatable. Kacey asks, “is there a word for the way that I’m feeling tonight? Happy and Sad at the same time.” Maybe the answer to that question is “human” as I think we all feel this way sometimes. Another great example of her songwriting is seen in “Butterflies.”  While the common expression of “you give me butterflies” is included in the lyrics, the meaning behind the butterfly is much more complex. Someone has finally untangled the strings around her wings so that she can fly, much like a butterfly emerging from its chrysalis. Although I find it hard to believe that Kacey was ever a caterpillar, I’m glad she’s now a butterfly! In “Space Cowboy” we see Kacey engaging in wordplay. This song isn’t about an astronaut John Wayne but rather it’s about giving a cowboy his space. Clever, Kacey! 

A central theme weaving its way throughout this album is love, not just romantic love, but also love of the world (“Oh, What A World“) and love for one’s mother (“Mother“). Kacey finding love and her recent marriage to fellow musician Ruston Kelly may have something to do with the abundance of love flowing through this record. We can hear this in songs like “Love is a Wild Thing,” “Butterflies,” and in the album’s title track, “Golden Hour.” I reckon Ruston Kelly is also her “Velvet Elvis” (she must be his “Velvet Priscilla”).  

This past week, Kacey has been posting sound clips of her songs on Instagram along with short descriptions to go along with the songs. For the song’s first track, “Slow Burn,” she provides some background on the song for her listeners, saying “I was born 6 weeks early. Under 5 lbs. I came on the day of my baby shower. [I always have loved a party] It was the last time I was ever early for anything. SLOW BURN is one of my most auto-biographical songs. And one of my favorites. It was the last one @tronian [Ian Fitchuk] + @thesilverseas [Daniel Tashian] and I wrote and it’s the first song on the new record. Arriving 3/30” And for my favorite, “Oh, What A World,” she says, “I refuse to let the ugliness of the modern world make me forget about the mystery and beauty that surrounds us on a daily basis. OH, WHAT A WORLD was the first song we wrote for the album and it set the sonic pathway I decided to chase. Futurism: meet traditionalism. Vocoder: meet pedal steel and banjo. Full album: meet everyone on 3/30.

On a sonic level, this album is easy on the ears. “Lonely Weekend” sounds like the song you’d want to listen to on a lonely weekend. And “Happy & Sad” has a sound that’s almost familiar, like you’ve maybe heard it before but can’t remember where. I already commented on the “trippy” sound of “Oh, What A World” above and as Kacey says, this song set the “sonic pathway” for the album. Golden Hour’s sound is different from what we heard on her first two albums and that’s not a bad thing AT ALL. Kudos to Kacey for taking a creative leap with these sounds as it paid off in a major way- this is an excellent album- it’s lyrically, sonically, and creatively beautiful! 

If you’re thinking that this album isn’t “country,” you’re right. It’s not a country album, it’s a Kacey album. Even before songs were released from this album, we were told that it would be influenced by the Bee Gees, Sade, and Neil Young.  If the trippy, disco-infused sounds and the clever songwriting found on this album don’t appeal to you then you can hop on your “High Horse” and “giddy up, giddy up and ride straight out of this town!” 

Track Listing:

1. Slow Burn
2. Lonely Weekend
3. Butterflies
4. Oh, What A World
5. Mother
6. Love Is A Wild Thing
7. Space Cowboy
8. Happy & Sad

9. Velvet Elvis
10. Wonder Woman
11. High Horse

12. Golden Hour
13. Rainbow 

Happy Album Release Day, Kacey! Thank you for this beautiful album! I hope your album is getting all of the love it deserves. Don’t forget to check out the new album, along with all of Kacey’s great songs, on my “A Very Kacey Playlist.” 

Currently listening to: This album obviously. Though I should be brushing up on some Dashboard Confessional since I’m seeing them in concert tomorrow night at the Fillmore in Silver Spring. It’s pretty coincidental because Chris Carrabba, the band’s lead singer, was credited as being one of Kacey’s songwriting heroes at an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum not too long ago. Other songwriters on that list included John Prine (duh!), Loretta Lynn, Roger Miller, Neil Young, Buddy and Julie Miller, and Jim Croce.

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Kacey in front of her songwriting heroes (Photo courtesy of Dashboard Confessional’s Facebook page)
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