I first came across Kacey Musgraves when I stumbled onto a live video in which she performs her song, “Burn One With John Prine,” while on stage with the man himself. It was a touching video, and fun to watch a member of my generation show the appropriate respect to those who came before. Upon a few repeat listens, however, I was struck by Musgraves’ lyrical ability and hypnotic vocal talent. While I hold a special place in my ears and heart for the outlaw movement in modern country music, and have spent hours enjoying the vast library of the movement’s holy trinity: Isbell, Simpson, and Stapleton, I’ll be the first to point out the apparent lack of diversity and depth in the outlaw catalog.
Each of the outlaw trinity are nearing forty, and while they are prolific, the three of them alone are unable to saturate the radio stations well enough to cause a substantial shift in the tide, which trends toward the shallows of “pop-country” acts like the much maligned Florida Georgia Line. With all this in mind, one can imagine what a welcome sight Musgraves might be to a fan of the outlaw movement. An extremely talented young woman with a haunting voice, both in her singing and her writing. I went into Golden Hours with high hopes, and I was pleasantly impressed with what I found.
Lyrically, Musgraves doesn’t claim any knowledge beyond her age, but instead speaks to an emotional map of teenage life. Interestingly, she avoids focusing too heavily on the tropes associated with teen singer/songwriters, namely breakups and wide eyed inspirational messages. To put it, perhaps more bluntly, she doesn’t overestimate the importance of her teenage emotions, but celebrates the smallness of herself. This is summed up well in the introductory track, “Slow Burn,” which sees Kacey celebrating the smallness of her life, and the enjoyment of her own unimportance.
Other lyrical themes include her love for her family, her penchant for bad decisions, and her enjoyment of marijuana and psychedelics, a topic which is becoming more popular in country music thanks to hits from the likes of Simpson and Stapleton.
The album is not without its faults, however. Tracks like “Love is a Wild Thing” and “Happy & Sad” verge on Hallmark-esque lyricism, and one could do with a few more vocal highlighting moments, which Musgraves does seem to be capable of.
Perhaps the most persistent issue on this record is the uninventive production which undercuts every possibly great moment on this project. Producers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian seemingly saw a pretty, young singer/songwriter and simply hit copy and paste on the settings for early Taylor Swift records. This effectively robs the project of any intimate moments, which may work for radio play, but can leave listeners of the entire LP wanting.
The worst of the production offense can be heard on the drum tracks, which range from relatively inoffensive to horribly distracting. “High Horse,” particularly, is an interesting song which is essentially ruined by annoying drum work.
But there is something endearing about this album. There is a palpable honesty in every line, an audible happiness in every song, and an obvious admiration Country’s history.
Golden Hour isn’t a masterpiece of lyricism, nor is it an intimate dive into the emotional complexities of life. Golden Hour is the sound of a very young, very talented artist developing a sound which has a lot of promise.