Saturday, April 6, 2013

It Is What It Is

I heard about Kacey Musgraves on NPR.   I don't know if that's ironic or not because I think she has an appeal that expands instead of contracts.  She may have been introduced to the world as a country-pop singer, a sort of Taylor Swift from the wrong side of the tracks, but her music has a folk-synth-pop buzz and sparkle to it, spiced with steel-guitars and banjos, and her lyrics are both old-school/white-trash country and new-school hyper-smart.  The mix is intoxicating on songs like "Merry Go Round" and "Blowin' Smoke," making her album Same Trailer, Different Park feel like a high-class book of short stories you wish Bobbie Ann Mason could still write.  Mason's penultimate short story "Shiloh" seems to haunt these songs, that lyrical, working-class exhaustion, that sense that you are living a life everybody else is living and yet there's still no comfort in those numbers, except the shared almost mystical misery of smoke-breaks and backyard lightning  storms. 

Kacey Musgraves has it.  She's young, but the music and the words she writes feel eternal, and her voice has an ache to it that doesn't announce itself with hillbilly pride, but with a sort of lilting and sad sense of loss even before she has gotten started.  And there's humor too, but the bitten-into kind, the sort of laughs that come after working a double-shift and knowing you'll still be bouncing a couple of checks.  The beauty in her work comes from that kind of kitchen-table truth:  she looks despair and unemployment and church-lady hypocrisies right in the eye, while singing into a midnight microphone.  Same Trailer, Different Park's final song, "It Is What It Is," is basically one of the most gut-wrenchingly melancholy, and soul-liftingly honest tunes I've heard in a long, long time.  It fuses the pessimistic depth and breath of Simon and Garfunkel's "My Little Town" with the longing and desire of Joni Mitchell's "Hissing of Summer Lawns."  

Kacey Musgraves is not the white-trash Taylor Swift, though -- she's the 21st Century Patsy Cline.