“I’ve had my picture made with Willie Nelson/Stayed in a hotel with a pool,” Kacey Musgraves trills early on Pageant Material, “Slept in a room with the ghost of Gram Parsons/ Drank some wine I can’t afford.”
The song, “Dimestore Cowgirl,” is a laundry list of the experiences the Grammy winner has had since Same Trailer, Different Park made her the darling outsider’s voice in today’s modern Nashville. The toast of the press, a sweet-voiced champion of where individualism meets alternative lifestyles, and truth-teller for the hypocrisy settles into a fuller, lusher sound that draws on Glen Campbell, Bobbie Gentry, Ronnie Milsap, mid-career Haggard, ‘60s pop and a bit of Laurel Canyon.
Musgraves’ gospel of just getting along fleshes out with wit and a wink. “Biscuits” is a tumble of insight that bursts into a sailor’s shanty of a chorus, as she declares “Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.” On “This Town,” which opens with Musgraves’ Mee Maw describing an overdose at the emergency room where she worked, Musgraves offers a purring catalogue of the growth, cautioning that gossip makes the rounds “by Friday’s football game,” and advising “it’s too small to be mean.”
Musgraves is also especially adept at making fun of herself on Pageant Material. The title track captures an awkward girl with a strong sense of self, failing at every Southern Belle expectation. She punctures “reality” with a tart, “It ain’t that I don’t care about world peace/ But I don’t see how I can fix it in swimsuit on a stage” before owning, “I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t.”
Co-produced with Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, the album features a range of influences. There’s the high-plains, almost Mexican country that returns to one’s roots on “High Time,” the satin-smooth pop of the romantic languisher on “Late for the Party,” and the retro-waltz a la John Prine at his most poignant on “Fine.” Even the starkly haunted “Are You Sure,” seems like a dawning moment of realization between Musgraves, Willie Nelson and his Spanish gut string guitar, Trigger.
At 26, Musgraves has kept her wonder, honed her focus and remained true to her core. “Family Is Family” is a whirly swirl about blood transcending idiosyncrasies. The effervescent “Cup of Tea” captures every loser and weirdo’s details to suggest those are the things that make you special, as strings swell up to bathe her reality checker.
But the peak of Pageant Material may be “Die Fun.” Aggressively strummed acoustic guitar, her voice wafting like sunlight, Musgraves throws her arms open to living life to its fullest. Details of how to spend the moments drop like rain, making simple a siren’s call to joy.