With a little help, Kacey Musgraves has spent the past five years building a new musical world in Nashville. Now, with two new songs from her upcoming album Golden Hour, she's showing the world that she is fully living in it.
Casual country fans know Musgraves best for her 2013 debut, Same Trailer, Different Park, which won her two Grammy awards and a passionate following dominated by young women like herself: Southerners and others figuring out how live free in the postmodern world while holding on to what's good about family traditions. She co-wrote an anthem for this new generation, "Follow Your Arrow"; she embraced kitsch, kush and Christmas on two subsequent albums and got to know her role model, Willie Nelson, whose jazz-grounded vocal intonations became ever more influential on her own singing style.
Meanwhile, the middle path she'd forged on her debut — between country accessibility and singer-songwriterly attention to detail – became the template for the decade's breakthrough artists, from her sometime studio collaborator Chris Stapleton to the Brothers Osborne to Maren Morris. Musgraves, who like many of Nashville's most interesting stars became a top live draw and consistent album seller without ever having a No. 1 on country radio, became a standard bearer dogged by a question mark: would she stay in a genre that, commercially, didn't quite know what to do with her? If not, where would she go?
"Space Cowboy" and "Butterflies" answer that question definitively. Musgraves is staying in her old neighborhood — which is the new Nashville, after all. She is comfortable in her place at the center of a new Nashville, one that already owes a lot to her.
That's not to say that Musgraves is collaborating with an EDM DJ or a punk rock band. Instead, working with a the production team of Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian (the latter has his own well-regarded band, Silver Seas, and produced Emily West's stunning Symphonies EP last year). She's relaxed into the sound she'd already designed, going deeper beneath its sparkly, vintage-tinted surface and further cultivating her innate commitment to clarity and craft.
The instantly indelible "Space Cowboy" is as close to an Emmylou Harris classic as any of that ultimate touchstone's many young admirers have come – a tender, if slightly tart, goodbye to an old love whose airy, piano-driven arrangement perfectly suits Musgraves' delicate voice and inherent emotional equanimity. Its elegance takes Musgraves beyond the confines of contemporary country; no need for banjo breakbeats here. "Butterflies," which Musgraves says is the first love song she wrote for her recent groom Ruston Kelly, is a mid-tempo charmer in her usual lane, grounded in a reggae-fied twang. In spirit, it's a bit like a Little Big Town song, stepping easily beyond any genre category with a sunny sense that this is just where country should be these days.
These two songs bode so well for Musgraves' Golden Hour that her fans will be counting the days until March 30, when the album drops. All of Nashville will, too, because this is what Music City, now, is all about.