Kacey Musgraves – Pageant Material

Good country music is a lot like vinyl records in 2015, with both going from being treated like a relic to getting some semblance of mainstream acceptance in short order. Consider how easy it is hear a new Kacey Musgraves song or catch Sturgill Simpson on late night television and think talented artists with stacks of potential hits are coming out of the woodwork, wrestling the Nashville spotlight away from flag-waving fraternity brothers. Folks are just as susceptible to think records disappeared altogether sometime in between the rise of CDs and the first time the local bookstore chain got a shipment of overpriced Led Zeppelin reissues.

But just as new vinyl was available in local record stores all along, country singers that were worth a damn were out there already, either poorly promoted or labeled as Americana before the recent resurgence of Nashville rebels. At a time when the throwback appeal of records nears its zenith comes Musgraves’ second consecutive number one country album, on pink vinyl, and it’s pleasing to the ears of old-time country fans and pop tastemakers.

Like vinyl represses, Musgraves’ latest set of songs is a slick, new version of something comfortably familiar. Lead single “Biscuits” is as Southern as can be and even campy in a way that country music allows, with Musgraves telling others to mind their own business by dropping everyone’s craziest relative’s favorite sayings, including “pissing in my yard isn’t going to make yours any greener.” Other tracks have this overarching theme of self-acceptance, whether Musgraves is professing to be a “Dime Store Cowgirl,” shunning the “Good Ol’ Boys Club,” or admitting she’s not “Pageant Material.” The latter is especially poignant and even hilarious at times, with Musgraves shooting down small town demands to be girlie – “It ain’t that I don’t care about world peace, but I don’t see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage.” There’s even a duet with Willie Nelson as a secret bonus track, inching Musgraves closer to being the modern day Jessi Colter.

Whether vinyl and country music that borrows more from the classics than the pop charts are here to stay or prove to be too much for a digital world filled with short attention spans remains to be seen. And even if Musgraves and her peers remain relevant, popularity of country’s roots can ebb and flow – the great artists of the ‘60s and ‘70s had to take a backseat to pop stars like John Denver before outlaws took over the airwaves. Enjoy the ride, however long it lasts, as Pageant Material is one of the best releases of 2015. Best of all, it’ll sound great on your turntable.

Kacey Musgraves
Pageant Material
[Mercury Nashville]