Kacey Musgraves’ breakthrough single, “Merry ‘Go Round” ends with “Jack and Jill went up a hill/Jack burned out on booze and pills/And Mary had a little lamb/Mary just don’t give a damn no more.”
And there’s plenty more where that came from on “Same Trailer, Different Park,” the country singer’s major label debut, out today. Full of fractured fairy tales and broken dreams, “Same Trailer, Different Park” takes the listener through a spellbinding cascade of downwardly mobile characters, each one spiraling further than the next, stuck in dead end jobs and even deader-end relationships.
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At 24, her plaintive, steady voice has already acquired a world-weariness that makes her homespun truths all the more poignant. On “Merry ‘Go Round,” she sings “If you don’t have two kids by 21, you’re probably gonna die alone/at least that’s what tradition told you.” On the driving “Blowin’ Smoke,” the protagonist/waitress has already given up on getting out of her small town and smaller job: “We all say that we’ll quit someday when our ship comes in/we’ll just sail away/we’re just blowin‘ smoke.” “Keep it to yourself/if you think you still love me/put it on a shelf/if you’re looking for someone/make it someone else,” she sings to an ex-lover on “Keep It To Yourself.”
In years past, the country mainstream would have pushed Musgraves to the fringes, but with artists like Miranda Lambert and Eric Church in country’s sweet spot now, she has been embraced. So much so that on the strength of “Merry ‘Go Round,” she received four Academy of Country Music Award nominations, including Female Vocalist of the Year, alongside the likes of Miranda Lambert, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood.
But it’s outside of country that word is also catching fire. Katy Perry has repeatedly tweeted of her love for Musgraves. She was declared Nashville’s Next Big Thing by no less than the New York Times Magazine, in a glowing 4-page spread. She co-wrote Lambert’s current single, rebellious “Mama’s Broken Heart” and her song “Undermine” was featuring on ABC’s “Nashville.”
Musgraves admits it’s all a little heady, and a lot scary, for the former “Nashville Star” contestant from Golden, Texas.
“It’s setting me up for a little bit of pressure,” she says. “I’m not just in it to be the fastest and highest, I want to be an Emmylou [Harris] or Patty Griffin...On one hand, it’s amazing that I’m thought of that way, but on the other hand, it’s really scary for me. There are things that are lifelong [dreams] that are happening.”
Musgraves’ melodies are stripped down and deceptively simple sounding, but it’s her word craft that stands out. She’s been writing songs since she was 12. “I love words,” she says. “They’re fun. I don’t think any word can just be filler. There’s no room for it. It’s like a puzzle. Every song can be written a million times. How can you say it differently?”
Though she doesn’t write every day, when a song idea comes, she honors it. “When something comes to my brain, I don’t ignore it. You never know what it’s going to turn into,” she says. “Maybe half the time they’re shit and nothing comes of it, but if I hadn’t written it down...writing gives me a high like nothing else.”
Speaking of highs, her songs have flustered the more conservative side of country by including her love of a certain weed (although most had no problem playing “Merry Go’ Round,” which includes the line “Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay, brother’s hooked on Mary Jane, and dad, he’s hooked on Mary two doors down”) However, they weren’t so ready to embrace “Follow Your Arrow,” whose lyrics include “Kiss lots of boys/kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into/when the straight and narrow gets a little too straight just roll up a joint or don’t/just follow your arrow wherever it points.”
Considered as a follow-up single to “Merry ‘Go Round,” Musgraves and the label eventually decided to go with “Blowin’ Smoke,” perhaps, in part, due to Musgraves’ desire to not do a radio edit to change the potentially offending lyrics. “I wouldn’t ever do a radio edit because I feel like it would totally go against the point of ‘Follow Your Arrow’,” she says. “I just think you’re going to like it or not like it.” She adds she’s not surprised that some folks objected to the lyrics. “I think there are always going to be close-minded people,” she says. “I think it’s damn time we opened our minds.”
Musgraves has already opened for Lady Antebellum and Little Big Town and now she’s on the road with Kenny Chesney. “I expect to learn a lot as far as entertaining goes,” she says of touring with one of country’s few bona fide stadium fillers. “Mainly, I learn by playing with the band over and over. I feel like it’s getting better every time I do it.”