Same Trailer, Different Tax Bracket: Kacey Musgraves & the Mainstream-Americana Fault

If there's but one certainty at this point in the 2013 musical calendar, it's that Kacey Musgraves' Same Trailer, Different Park will end up on more year-end best album lists than just about any other artist, irrespective of genre. Which raises an interesting question: To what genre does Musgraves belong?

It's not a trivial query, for the relationship between Americana music and mainstream Nashville fare is a contentious one, and few artists are able to credibly straddle the fault line. Seeing Musgraves seated next to Taylor Swift during the June 5 CMT Awards undoubtedly made purists cringe, while those with a stake in her commercial viability rejoiced. And Musgraves' current presence as a supporting act for and duet partner ("Come Over") of Kenny Chesney, owner of perhaps the biggest asshole fan base in all of country music, certainly won't curry any favor with the traditionalist set. Then there's the fact that she was once a contestant on Nashville Star, hardly emblematic of an organic road to stardom.

But forget about all that, and listen to her latest album. It's fantastic, ranking up there with Jason Isbell's Southeastern as among the best down-home releases of the year. Absent the sort of production theatrics you'll find on the records of her tartier female contemporaries, it bespeaks an artist who puts her music--and only her music--out front. And, cute as Musgraves is, she hardly has to hide behind it.

Musgraves and a pair of writing partners (including Brandy Clark) penned a mega-hit this year for Miranda Lambert entitled "Mama's Broken Heart." Musgraves and Lambert grew up together in rural Texas, and the latter admits to begging the former for permission to cut the tune (Musgraves sings backup on it). When mainstream Nashville is asked to hold up evidence of the fact that it's capable of churning out successful-yet-grounded music, Lambert's typically Exhibit A, brandishing her traditional credibility with her Pistol Annies side venture.

Yet, talented as she is, there's something naggingly packaged about Lambert, also a former Nashville Star contestant. She works the "crazy" schtick a little too hard for it to be much more than a self-aware branding ploy; her marriage to Blake Shelton is tabloid fodder; she enlists the likes of Danica Patrick for her videos; and anyone who's ever listened to Tres Chicas must realize that the Annies owe them more than a small debt of gratitude. While Musgraves is an example of that rare artist who can leapfrog from Nashville to Austin and back again, Lambert's failure to find her footing on such elusive turf proves how difficult it is to have your ribs and smoke them too in the fickle roots-music realm.

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Tags: Blake, Brandy, Clark, Isbell, Jason, Kacey, Lambert, Miranda, Musgraves, Shelton, More…Swift, Taylor

Comment by Jim Moulton on July 10, 2013 at 12:13am

  Musgraves is a joy to listen to, she has a real country voice and can sing and write songs too, I love the words of the title track a lot. She has a lot of great musicians on her CD, that should help carry across her beautiful lyrics. She really has a folk element to her CD that separates her from pure country singers like Carrie Underwood, who keeps getting more and more pop sounding, though she has a beautiful voice.  As Seely points out, the tabloid element of her marriage to super star Blake Shelton, kind of limits her from the elusive turf that Musgraves has found in her music which is a very unusual production for a Nashville artist, with the sparse arrangements on "Same Trailer, Different Park".  Listening to her CD ,it is hard to see her opening for an artist like Kenny Chesney, yet on the other hand, her music is so Down to earth, I could the country crowd liking her. On the other hand, I don't know where she would fit genre' wise, the more I listen to her. She has a number of controversial songs like "Follow That Arrow".  Yet she has a debut on a major label, Mercury Records.

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on July 10, 2013 at 11:30am

Welcome Mike!  I'm excited to have you posting here. 

It'll be interesting to watch Kasey's career trajectory.  I loved Miranda's first album where she seemed more authentic but she's totally lost me by now.  Jamey Johnson seems to have straddled the fault successfully. Seems like a harder proposition for the ladies where the machine seems insistent on tarting them up and dumbing them down.

Comment by Mike Seely on July 10, 2013 at 11:50am

Well said, Kyla. I recently made a list of fellow straddlers, and came up with: Ashley Monroe, Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam and Vince Gill, in addition to Jamey. Outlaws like Willie & Waylon are the masters of this gambit, however.

Comment by Kyla Fairchild on July 10, 2013 at 12:08pm

It's sad how short that list is.  Even Dierks seems to have jumped the shark. His early albums are great but his later stuff and his persona are now too slick for my tastes.  They chewed Lori McKenna up and spit her out pretty fast.

We did a really great No Depression syndicated radio show for a couple years back in 2002 and 2003 and the goal was to try and bring authentic "country" music to mainstream country radio.  It seemed like a no brainer at the time, and we did have some success getting it on classic country and some left of the dial country stations (around 50 or 60 stations in total), but we found that chasm runs wide and deep and finally gave up.

Comment by photo cowboy on July 12, 2013 at 5:28am

listen to the 2 albums by yvette landry - takes me back to loretta and patsy

Comment by TwangNation.com on July 12, 2013 at 5:39am

I'm definitely in the minority when I say that Musgraves strikes me as much ado. She's a breath of fresh air in the stagnant creative environment of Music city. Low bar. In that rank I'd put Miranda, her fellow Annie Ashley Monroe and Kelly Pickler in my preferred list. I applaud Musgraves for changing up the hackneyed themes of Music City, but all you have to do is look at the far richer roots and Americana ranks to result in a shoulder shrug. 

Comment by Victoria Folkerts on July 12, 2013 at 5:52am

Kyla, you hit the nail on the head! Interesting post Mike. I was attracted by the title of her CD, stayed for the music.

Comment by garry on July 12, 2013 at 6:04am

Agreed that Kacey's album will end up on many year-end lists; it's currently high up on my own evolving "2013 so far" lists.  I was surprised by the comparison to Isbell's 'Southeastern', though.  Both are strong albums featuring fine songwriting, but man...talk about apples and oranges as far as listening experiences go.  The main reason for Kacey's large crossover appeal are her melodies (or her co-writers' melodies - - I don't know who comes up with them).  I'd guess that it's her lyrics that grab the more "serious listener" Americana/No Dep crowd, while the melodies grab the larger audience.  Isbell's lyrics are just as good, if not better, but listening to 'Southeastern' isn't the same kind of aural pleasure that 'Same Trailer, Different Park' provides.  Isbell is onions and potatos; Kacey is sweet corn and fried green tomatos.  Both are good for you, but one goes down soooo much easier!

Garry

(btw, there will, inevitably, be a critical backlash coming Kacey's way as the year progresses; count on it)

Comment by photo cowboy on July 12, 2013 at 6:06am

people may start out as originals however as they get bigger they get more and more people dependant on them and they feel the need for these hangers on plus their growing family - thus the need for more money and a vicious cycle ensues - look at what bruce springsteen started as and and now with the big entourage - and they sell out - there was something about miranda that i never cared for from the beginning - dwight i still like tho he has lost a bit of an edge he still keeps the knife sharp - willie and waylon found the right people to surround them - and when you have more people pulling at your ear and pocket book it is harder to know which voice to listen to - since yvette landry is still so young and the music so diverse in ways from the other bands she plays with who knows but for now i get a good 'feel' from her - 

Comment by Mike Hopkins on July 12, 2013 at 6:14am

Great article. I heard a track on NPR and really like the whole album.  Its ever so close to having that icky Nashville sheen to it, but its just rootsy enough to be on what I would consider the "right" side of the line.  While the songwriting is excellent, it certainly doesnt have the maturity that Isbell's new one exhibits.  Of course, its probably not meant to...

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.