Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves

Mercury Nashville, 2015

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Second albums face an entirely different degree of difficulty than debut efforts. No longer trying to make an impression, you’re now trying to retain an audience. Having already staked your claim in the musical world, you’re now trying to prove you’re more than just a shooting star. So the inevitable question is, should a sophomore album simply imitate what worked the first time, or go for broke and try something new?

In Pageant Material, Kacey Musgraves opts for the more conservative path, largely sticking to the formula that wowed the country music world (at least those who were paying attention) in Same Trailer, Different Park. The result is an album missing the surprise factor of her debut, but an effort still worlds better than most of what her contemporaries are producing.

Same Trailer, Different Park introduced a singer willing to tell the stories of rural, small-town life with an edge, setting her apart from the more saccharine portrayals often favored by country artists. So it ought to come as no surprise that while the chorus of “This Town” proclaims that “this town’s too small to be mean”—a line that would sound perfectly natural coming from a Carrie Underwood or a Hillary Scott—the song begins with a field recording of her grandmother sharing a story about a belligerent drug overdose victim who bit the local hospital’s nurses before being restrained. Musgraves remains unafraid to tell the unvarnished truth about what small-town life is really like, but beneath the edge is a beating heart that loves that life, warts and all. “Dime Store Cowgirl,” the inevitable I’m-a-star-now-but-I-haven’t-changed song that every sophomore album demands, sees Musgraves unabashedly declaring that, despite her newfound fame, “I still call my hometown home,” and nothing in the toe-tapping melody leads you to believe she’s being sardonic.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

For those who liked Musgraves most for her in-your-face attitude, “Biscuits” and title track “Pageant Material” will be highlights. The former comes as a rollicking heir apparent to Same Trailer’s hit single “Follow Your Arrow,” this time with a deep-fried proverb: “mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy.” The latter uses a traditional country sound to put to bed any fears that she’ll slap on a sweet smile and start acting like someone she’s not: after all, she says, “I’d rather lose for what I am than win for what I ain’t.”

And if you liked Musgraves for her much-discussed, Willie Nelson-esque readiness to sing about lighting up and having a good time, the title track’s declaration that she’s “always higher than [her] hair” still gets some attention in the hazy, unhurried opener “High Time.” For good measure, she brings in Nelson himself at the album’s close, the soft ballad “Are You Sure.”

What sets Pageant Material apart from its predecessor is difficult to discern. The passage of time has refined her sound a bit, but it’s still pretty traditional country. Her lyrics have lost some of their sharpness, even while the message remains assertive and unapologetic. Most of all, her attitude is seemingly unchanged by success. Pageant Material is more of the same of what you got from Same Trailer, Different Park, a true companion piece to a debut that announced her presence with authority. If you’re looking for surprises, look elsewhere, but if you’re looking for a good time, you’ve come to the right place.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


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