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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When Cairo Went Country

Two-Step Like An Egyptian 

Okay, so Cairo was never actually country. My apologies if you clicked on this post after reading the title expecting to see images of Hosni Mubarak in a cowboy hat and boots or Gamal Abdel Nasser learning how to two-step. However, if these pictures do exist, someone please send them to me ASAP!

Instead, this post is about a country song and a music video by two female artists from the 90s: Pam Tillis’ “Cleopatra, Queen of Denial” and Shania Twain’s “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” for which the music video was filmed in Cairo and Saqqara, Egypt.

“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt” 

Just call Pam Tillis “Cleopatra” because she is the “Queen of Denial” in this 1993 hit. No, this is not Pam’s country accent causing her to mispronounce the river’s name – this woman is really in denial! Her man is obviously a good-for-nothing liar yet she keeps buying his alibis. Pam honestly believes that he couldn’t buy her a ring because he didn’t have any money yet he was able to go out and buy himself a new brand new pick-up truck. Come on girl! Read the hieroglyphic writing on the wall!

As Pam sings in this song, she is “floatin’ down a river of lies” from all the stories this guy has told her. And if he really does lie as much as she says, his “river of lies” sounds comparable to the that of the Nile, measuring in at 4,258 miles long.

“I caught him dancin’ last night with a girl in leopard skin pants” 

In this song, Pam Tillis catches her man dancing with a girl in leopard skin pants, which I swear wasn’t me! Honestly y’all, I didn’t even own these pants back in 1993 (see below)! But can Pam really blame him? Leopard skin pants are pretty hot (see below again)!

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The Sphinx, Giza, Egypt (July 2014)

I would be remiss to not take this chance to say that the actual Cleopatra, the Queen of the Nile, is nothing like the woman in this song. She was extremely intelligent and a strong monarch, reigning as the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt. She is well-known for her romantic affairs- one of her most famous lovers was Julius Caesar who was also her political ally. In Rome, she was regarded as his mistress since their Egyptian marriage was not recognized by Roman Law. Caesar did not try to conceal the fact she was his mistress, in fact, he even erected a statue of her in the temple of Venus Genetrix, which scandalized many Romans. He also openly claimed their son, Caesarion. These were bold statements, especially as she was unpopular with the Romans because she was outspoken and powerful. While she was married to Caesar, she had been forced to also marry her brother Ptolemy XIV in order to keep in line with Egyptian custom. After Caesar’s assassination, in order to prevent any challenges to Caesarion’s succession, she had her brother Ptolemy XIV killed. Another of her lovers was the Roman general Mark Antony with whom she allied herself with after Caesar’s death in order to help prevent Egypt from becoming a vassal to Rome. Although she did play hard to get at first by refusing Antony’s first two requests to meet and discuss their political alliance she eventually met with him and won him over with her charm. Though sources prove that Cleopatra and Antony truly did love one another, even having three children together, their relationship also proved beneficial to Cleopatra in her goal of expanding and protecting her empire. When it came to relationships, unlike Pam Tillis, Cleopatra wore the (leopard skin) pants!

There is, however, one thing that Pam Tillis and Cleopatra have in common and that’s heavy eye makeup- eyeshadow for the former and kohl for the latter.

 

From the Sticks to the Sahara 

I’m sure the days of country artists filming music videos in Egypt are long over but in 1995 this was a completely normal thing to do. In Shania Twain’s music video for “The Woman In Me (Needs The Man In You),” she can be found riding horseback through the pyramids, dancing at the oldest mosque in Cairo (The Mosque of Ibn Tulun), and hanging off a felucca boat over the Nile. It should come as no surprise that this is one of my favorite music videos- it’s Shania Twain….in Egypt!! Masha’Allah! 

You may be wondering why she was riding a horse and not a camel at the pyramids. Well, let me tell you, as someone who had ridden many a camel, nobody looks good riding one. Although if anyone could’ve pulled it off, it would’ve been Shania!

The most surprising thing about this video is the fact that none of the men in it seem to notice Shania. Yeah okay, you expect me to believe that Shania Twain, one of the most beautiful women in the world, went to Egypt and wasn’t bombarded with Egyptian men constantly hitting on her? Not buying it!

In Robin Eggar’s Shania Twain: The Biography (2001), this video is discussed briefly. It was filmed over the course of three days with Shania waking up at 3 a.m. so that she could be ready when dawn broke at 5:30 a.m. This video was filmed in the month of July and having been to Egypt myself in July (back in 2014) I know firsthand how hot it can get. I’m mostly impressed by the fact that she didn’t sweat out all of her makeup in this video!

Here’s a short snippet from her biography where she discusses making this video:

“All these women were around me. They were in black, I was in white. In Western culture, white is always the sign of innocence. In Egypt, white is considered a flamboyant color, whereas black is a humble color. We did some magnificent scenes with the women. They were wonderful. If my shawl was to come off, or if I took it off for a second, the women would run up to me like mothers and cover my shoulders for me… The mystery of the place just got to me. I got choked up for a bit while we were doing a take.” (Page 236)

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Mosque of Ibn Tulun, Cairo, Egypt (July 2014)

I too visited the Mosque of Ibn Tulun when I was in Cairo (pictured above). Though the rules must’ve changed since Shania was there as I don’t think they allow dancing anymore.

Yalla, y’all! 

Both of these music videos are posted above so if you haven’t watched them yet go on ahead and do it! Yalla, y’all!

Currently listening to: The Brother Brothers- “Cairo, IL” and Natalie Hemby- “Cairo, IL” (not the same song though it is about the same place- the abandoned City of Cairo, Illinois)

Orange Ain’t Brandy Clark’s Color

Season five of ‘Orange is the New Black’ was released today so I thought that “prison” would be an appropriate theme for today’s post. While it’s true that there’s no shortage of songs about prison in country music (they’re a rough bunch, what can I say?), there’s one song in particular that I want to focus on. And in keeping with the OITNB theme, this song is by a female artist. Ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, wardens and inmates, I present to you “Stripes” by Brandy Clark.

In her 2013 song “Stripes,” Brandy catches her lover cheating and despite her finger itching to pull the trigger on them, she doesn’t. Why not you ask? Well, it’s because she hates stripes and orange ain’t her color. And if she squeezed that trigger she would’ve been wearin’ one or the other. As she repeats in the song’s chorus, “there’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion.” I’m not sure if the ladies of OITNB would agree.

Brandy also says that hard time might not be so bad- she could fall in love with the prison guard to help make her time behind bars a little more bearable. She might want to have a talk with Dayanara about that!

I won’t analyze all of the lyrics as the link to the video is below and you can have a listen for yourself. I do, however, want to use this opportunity to mention that Brandy Clark is a great singer/songwriter and encourage you to check out some of her other music. I got to see in her concert a couple of years ago when she was the opening act for Eric Church and even got to meet her (picture below). You’re probably already familiar with some of her work and you just didn’t know it- she helped write hits like Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.”

Oh! And orange ain’t my color either! Seriously, I look just awful in it.

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With Brandy Clark, John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA (October 2014)

 

Currently listening to: Regina Spektor- “You’ve Got Time” (OITNB themesong)