Kacey Musgraves BEYOND “Merry Go ‘Round”

kacey-musgravesWe talk often around here about this element in the mythology behind country music that espouses the coming of a great country music savoir, someone who will ride into Nashville and right the country music ship from its wayward trajectory. Eric Church mocked us for this theory in the song “Country Music Jesus,” but unfettered, true country music fans hold out hope for this country music savior, however silly or impractical the idea behind it might be.

In recent weeks and months, it’s been hard not to look at Kacey Musgraves and her song “Merry Go ‘Round” and wonder if this isn’t the girl and song that has the mustard to crack the Music Row cartel’s iron grip on mainstream country. “Merry Go ‘Round” just keeps chugging away like the little single that could. After sitting just outside the top 20 on Billboard’s country song chart for nearly 20 weeks, it finally cracked into the inner sanctum a week or so ago, and now sits at #19; an impressive feat for a song with such a non-conformist, subversive message compared to regular country charting fare.

The most powerful tool we can put in the hands of the country music consumer is the knowledge that they have a choice, and that there’s an alternative to what their used to. Once they’re given that knowledge, they are likely to make better choices. Kacey Musgraves and “Merry Go ‘Round” offer to country music public a guidepost to that alternative.

Just announced yesterday, Kacey Musgraves’ new album coming March 19th will be called Same Trailer, Different Park–an homage to her “Merry Go ‘Round” single whose success has also landed her a nomination in the ACM’s “New Female Vocalist of the Year” category, an opening spot on a Little Big Town tour starting in a week, and a big stadium tour with Kenny Chesney this summer.

The way Kacey Musgraves’ success has been predicated on a single song speaks to the power of that song’s message, and reminds us that as one of the basic building blocks of music, a song can still change the world. At the same time, since we really only have one song to base our opinions on, it begs the question, what do we really know about Kacey Musgraves? I have to admit I was slightly disappointed to see the title of her new album taken from “Merry Go ‘Round.” Great song yes, but I want to see what else Kacey’s got. I want to be assured there’s more to her than just one song.

Who is Kacey Musgraves? Well she’s 24-years-old, originally from Sulpher Springs, TX. She came into the greater country music consciousness when competing on USA Network’s “Nashville Star” in 2007. It’s hard to say “reality TV” lent to her success though, placing 7th overall on a 2nd-rate series. She’s had 3 independent releases: Movin’ On (2002), Wanted: One Good Cowboy (2003), and Kacey Musgraves (2007). A cursory sniff at these albums shows promise, but since they’re so old and Kacey is so young, they’re probably not fair for judging where Kacey is now. What they do prove is a lot of drive and heart for country music in Kacey from a young age, and an independent spirit that we can still hear in “Merry Go ‘Round.”

So void of any other outlet to find out what Kacey might have in store for us, like many a curious fan does I navigated to YouTube to see if that could shed any light. As I said in my review of “Merry Go ‘Round,” for such mature song, it also features some immaturity. What I found on YouTube in various radio station appearances was songwriting that rivaled “Merry Go ‘Round,” and one called “It Is What It Is” that leaves behind the concern that Kacey may be a little “young” in her approach.

Another one I found showcases the same intelligent humor that is hinted at in “Merry Go ‘Round.” Kacey’s “Trailer Song,” just like “It Is What It Is” resides in waltz time, hinting to a strong country foundation to her music, more so than the progressive approach sonically from “Merry Go ‘Round.”

Having asked the question, “What does Kacey Musgraves have beyond Merry Go ‘Round?” I think I was happy and excited with what I found.

But let’s not forget what the Music Row machine can do to a young artist. I am a firm believer that just like freshly-elected politicians that head to Washington, most artists go to Nashville with the best intentions and a pure drive to express themselves and not become “products.” But just like Washington, Music Row integrates its talent into the machine, and all of a sudden it’s hard to not crave more money, and more of the spotlight. Do you think when Tim McGraw stepped off the Greyhound in Nashville with guitar and suitcase in hand he ever dreamed 20 years later he’d be cutting a song called “Truck Yeah” ? Kacey will be rubbing elbows with a lot of the Music Row machine when she tours with Little Big Town and Kenny Chesney.

Who knows if Kacey Musgraves will be the next country music savior. Truth is, it will probably take more than one artist, and it will probably take more than one song. And on March 19th, we will likely have more than just “Merry Go ‘Round” from Kacey Musgraves to fight the country music fight with.

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