Musgraves, like Taylor Swift before her, has a way uncannily bringing people that wouldn’t be caught dead listening to a George Jones record into the dusty fold.
But unlike Swift’s winsome fairytale strewn path to a pure-pop exodus Musgraves shows on ‘Pageant Material,’ that she’s content to stick around Music Row for a while, and use her wit, charm and a stiff shot of deft songcraft to draw in the twang wary and change things from the inside.
Musgraves’ pop comes in the form of populism that is less soapbox serenades than barstool banter. Songs like “Biscuits” and the excellent title song speak in appealing, self-depreciating southern grammar to draw you into ideas of non-conformity and acceptance while bringing the highfalutin down to earth.
Musgraves also takes time to have fun. “High Time” is a perfect Summer song that moseys along in Ronnie Milsap pop-country accentuated by a carefree whistling , well-timed hand claps and a sweep 50’s era Nashville Sound stings.
“Family is Family” is a fun jaunt in praise of blood lines that would give John Prine and chuckle. “Late To The Party” is a cuddly soft folk ballad that has Musgraves letting out her inner James Taylor. “Dimestore Cowgirl,” allows us to travel along with on her exceptional journey. “I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson/Stayed in a hotel with a pool” “Slept in a room with the ghost of Gram Parsons/ Drank some wine I can’t afford.” While reminding us she’s not getting above her raising and celebrates home in a way that feels real. Cause I’m still the girl from Golden, Had to get away so I could grow / But it don’t matter where I’m goin’, I’ll still call my hometown home.”
“This Town” is a personal favorite. With reverbed guitars, tambourine and eerie ‘Ode To Billy Joe’ – style strings Musgraves does her best Nancy Sinatra in this study on small town grapevine with it’s gossip and legit news puts Twitter to shame.
Musgraves worked behind the scenes foy years in Texas and Music Row before signing to Mercury Nashville and releasing “Same Trailer, Different Park.” Her chops shine in this excellent clutch of songs crafted with some of the friends – Shane McAnally, Brandy Clark, Luke Laird, Ashley Arrison, Josh Osborne, and Natalie Hemby – she’s made along the way.
Musgraves has much in common with one of her heroes, Willie Nelson. Both are adroit at the game and genre boundaries and are able to push the them to make room for a larger community. They affect change through the ver Southern qualities of quiet strength of example and likeability. They both stand as examples to an an industry, already excluding the female and alternative voice, that change is good.
‘Pageant Material’ is a subtle hillbilly Buddhist bomb of a record that will challenge attitudes. biases and business while being bracingly real.
The simple power is summed up nicely in a line in “The Good Ol’ Boys Club.” “It shouldn’t be about who it is you know / but about how good you are.”