Kacey Musgraves is one of the biggest lightning rods in country music. On one hand, you have a female making traditional country music in 2015, having some mainstream success. On the other, you have a girl who many view as snooty or cocky. She certainly wears her heart on her sleeve, and that has turned off some fans. With her second album, Pageant Material, she does some work to refute those notions. A lot was riding on this release. Kacey fans wanted to see her continue to fly the flag for traditional country music, while critics wanted to see some growth in her subject matter and songwriting. Thankfully, Pageant Material does both. This album goes a long way in cementing Kacey's legacy as a top notch artist.
Pageant Material certainly is stone cold traditional country. A lot of modern artists like to look to the outlaw era of the 1970's when trying to create an authentic country sound. Kacey looks more at the singing cowboys of the 1950's, and the Gram Parsons style from the 1970's. This is especially recognizable in the track "Dime Store Cowgirl". This is a light, spacey track that tells the story of her humble lifestyle. I hear it is slated to be the next single, and that's a great call. It should be a big hit if country radio has a brain. Songs like "High Time" and "Cup Of Tea" represent that same light and airy sound, with a lot of echo and space between the instruments. The whole album has that same feel, and it makes for a very pleasant listening experience. There is a lot of room for the instruments to have their own individual sound, and the lyrics can be heard without screaming. The best songs on the album include "Somebody To Love", a haunting ballad about the struggle to find love in a maddening world. "Somebody To Love" sounds like a folk hit from the 70's but still really feels at home on this record. "Good Ole Boys Club" is a nice little protest song that criticizes the boys only club on country radio, and does a fantastic job at it. "Shouldn't be about who you know, but how good you are" is a line that pops out at me, as well as the tongue-in-cheek jab "another gear in a big machine doesn't sound too fun to me". I'm sure Scott Borchetta and Florida-Georgia Line, the leaders of the boys club at Big Machine Records, loved that. The album also closes with two killer songs. "Fine" is a depressing look at the end of a relationship through the eyes of someone who is in denial of their true feelings. It has the type of lyricism that country music was built upon, painting pictures of the scene in your head with vivid descriptions and heartbreaking metaphors. The album also has a hidden track, "Are You Sure", which features none other than the great Willie Nelson on one of his old hits. Of course, this is solid country gold. Could Willie do anything else? Its a fantastic way to end a great album, and the hidden track is a fun addition that I wish more artists used.
The biggest concern with Kacey is always the fact that she seems to have the same themes in every song. While the bros sing about parties endlessly, Kacey has been known for singing about the social injustices of small towns endlessly. Kacey does have a few of those on this album, but it feels much less prevalent, which heightens the impact. "Biscuits" is a great song, it just felt to similar to her previous work. I would have released that as a third or fourth single to separate it from "Follow Your Arrow" and "Merry Go Round", but that's just me. I still like the song, but it wasn't a wise lead single. "Family Is Family" is fun, even if it borders on the similar theme again, and "This Town" is even a good listen. Once again, they are both still up that same ally, but in the context of this album, these songs work. As far as growth goes, "Late To The Party" is a very fresh sounding song that would be an immediate stand-out at radio. It has laid-back country instrumentation, but a groovy melody that gives it enough pop to fit in on radio. It would be a wise choice for a single. "Pageant Material" is another song that shows some growth, as she essentially calls out all the critics who take her as rude or conceited. She lets everyone know that she simply isn't pageant material. She wears her heart on her sleeve and won't sugarcoat things. Good for her! It's a nice touch on the album, and it was a perfect title for the whole project. She is quirky, so an ironic title is perfect. "Die Fun" could be a single for the lyrics that the younger crowd will appreciate, but to me it just doesn't work. It isn't a bad song, but it isn't really the type of song I want to listen to at this point in my life. The lyrics deal with the "no regrets, live it up, yolo, blah blah blah" crowd. To each their own. The song "Miserable" isn't bad per se, but it is two songs after "Biscuits". It calls someone out for always being so miserable, and the lyrics are actually very good. It just seems silly to have a song that goes completely against the theme of "Biscuits" on the same album.
All in all, this album is pretty solid. Lots of great country music, thoughtful lyrics, and innovative sounds. This a healthy evolution of country music. It is accessible to everyone. I have been hard on Kacey in the past, but this album certainly paints her in a very positive light. She shows growth and maturity on this album, and has really found her niche in the genre. She has proven she is a great songwriter and formidable vocalist. Pageant Material is a throwback, yet modern album at the same time. If you are a big fan of Kacey, you'll love this. If you were on the fence, give this a shot. It will impress you. We need more artists like Kacey that make great music like this on a major label for mainstream radio. This one is highly recommended!
Standout Tracks: "Fine", "Late To The Party", "Somebody To Love", "Dime Store Cowgirl", "Good Ole Boys Club", "Pageant Material", "Are You Sure", "Biscuits"
"Biscuits" (possibly the best music video of all time)
"Somebody To Love"
"Late To The Party"
"Dime Store Cowgirl"