Album Review: Kacey Musgraves - “Golden Hour”

Musgraves worked with a new production team on her third LP and that work has spawned a strong song-cycle, a cycle that’ll have longtime fans in for a shock, at least at first.

It’d have been easy for Kacey Musgraves to continue to make the same kind of albums full of clever wordplay and traditional country influenced songs but for her to continue to grow as an artist, she looked to stalwarts like Carole King, John Hiatt, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton to craft Golden Hour, a record that is 100% Kacey but mostly unlike anything we’ve heard from her before. And this is a good thing.

The opening tracks “Slow Burn” and “Lonely Weekend” showcase Musgraves blending all sorts of sonic influences that makes Golden Hour both contemporary and classic 70s singer/songwriter all at the same time. Songwriter/producers Ian Fitchuk (Drew Holcomb, Sean McConnell) and Daniel Tashian (Josh Turner, Patty Griffin) bring those indie influences into the Musgraves stew but they’ve made everything better by their presence. Innovative production choices ("Oh, What A World"), disco throwbacks (“High Horse”) and elegant, lyrically rich ballads (“Rainbow”) showcase the diversity. This isn’t to say that Musgraves doesn’t know she’s releasing a record on a Nashville-based label (MCA Nashville) as she’s still writing with the same writer collective that made up the majority of Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material on half of the album's tracks. The warmest songs on the record include “Butterflies,” “Wonder Woman,” and “Rainbow.” Each song co-written with those A-list songwriters.

There’s clearly an intent by Musgraves, Fitchuk, and Tashian to harness the golden-soaked memories of the 70s as if they were married to Dolly Parton or Lee Ann Womack vocal on songs like “Love Is A Wild Thing,” a beautiful, somewhat melancholic ballad about finding love when you least expect it. “Happy & Sad” is as song with beautiful honesty in the vocal and lyrics as Musgraves clearly wasn’t comfortable about falling in love (with her new husband, singer/songwriter Ruston Kelly). She had built walls to prevent that kind of love and he somehow knocked them out.

There ARE some potential country radio singles on this record, if radio will even play them. I could see “Velvet Elvis” being a radio ditty while “Wonder Woman,” “Butterflies” and “Lonely Weekend” are all worthy potential mainstream country radio hits but Musgraves (who has constantly challenged mainstream country radio with progressive lyrics and a defiant attitude towards their lack of support with female artists). “High Horse” is the best Katy Perry song Katy Perry never wrote, with a disco pop feel, a song which could be a pop radio hit if given a chance and it’s practically begging for a dance club remix for the dance charts and future Drag Queen performances. The closing pair of tunes in “Golden Hour” and “Rainbow” (a McCartney-like song which is waiting to be synched to a film scene and soundtrack) showcase this record well and truly make the album one of the best I’ve heard in the past couple of years.

If you’re willing to sit and digest Golden Hour, you’ll consistently be surprised and delighted by Golden Hour. To me, it’s the best album of Kacey Musgrave’s career to date, which is saying something because her first two records were consistently great and her Christmas album (A Very Kacey Christmas) was equally a delightful experience.