Album Review: Kacey Musgraves’ Same Trailer Different Park

The first time I heard Kacey Musgraves’ name, my supervisor at 106.1 WNGC was adding it to the night playlist. I didn’t have a clue who she was, and I’d never heard her debut single, “Merry Go ‘Round.” But, as soon as I did hear that first single of hers, I was hooked.

Her first album was released on March 19th, and I’ve had it on repeat ever since. Lately I’ve been using Spotify quite often, and it took me probably only one stream all the way through the album to recognize that it was definitely worth the buy on iTunes.

“Merry Go ‘Round” is a new perspective on small-town life, and boy is it honest and true. One-horse towns tend to be romanticized often in country music, but Kacey tells it like it is– teenage pregnancy, drugs, and trailer parks. The album title comes from a line in this song: “Same hurt in every heart; same trailer, different park.” The music video is also worth a watch:

But that first single isn’t the only gem on this record– in fact, they’re all wonderful. Kacey herself has a writing credit on every song on the album, and though she shares credit with other big names in country songwriting, her honesty is the common thread of this album.

“It Is What It Is” is an obvious continuation of the raw statement of fact she gave in “Merry Go ‘Round,” and the rest of the album continues with its realizations and messages about life, sans any semblance of a sugar coating. “Blowin’ Smoke” and “Stupid” are particularly catchy and upbeat songs about talking smack over cigarettes and looking like a fool because of love, respectively. “Follow Your Arrow” is a peppy song with a positive message encouraging the listener to do what their heart desires and not care what people think of your actions.

“My House” follows suit with a picture of a life on the road where happiness is the people you’re with. She makes it obvious that friends and relationships are far more important than a fancy house: “No matter where we go, we’ll never be alone. Anywhere beside you is the place that I’ll call home.”

One song I can’t get enough of is “Step Off.” The sound of the song is relaxed and content, but the music itself almost has some sass to it. I almost don’t want to say this for fear of putting Taylor Swift and Kacey Musgraves on the same plane when they’re very different artists… but this song is almost a more direct version of Taylor’s “Mean.” It’s a song for those people who can’t stand to see you succeed, and as a college kid trying to figure out how to make a name for myself in a highly competitive world, I can completely relate to “Step Off” and its warning to eternal pessimists who want nothing more than to undermine everyone but themselves.

“Silver Lining” speaks to the fact that rewards don’t come without risk and hard work, and “I Miss You” is a testament of exactly what can come of risking comfort for success. “I Miss You” is a nostalgic tune about someone who was left behind in a rise to success. Even though leaving a familiar life to chase a dream can be incredibly rewarding, especially for someone as talented Kacey Musgraves, it still requires sacrificing, and sometimes that brings the bittersweet reality of a fading friendship or relationship.

“Keep It to Yourself,” “Back on the Map,” and “Dandelion” are the more personal tracks on this album. “Dandelion” is a sad comparison between a weedy flower and a relationship that always leaves a painful mark. “Keep It to Yourself” tells the story of someone who’s ready to move on after a love broke their heart, but its tune has just enough of a mellow sadness to still carry a little bit of sadness toward that ended relationship. “Back on the Map” first looks back on a past mistake, then has a hopeful tone to it as Kacey sings about looking for someone to pull her out of a low period and help her get back on her feet emotionally.  Overall, I love this album. As a songwriter myself, I respect Kacey’s ability to be honest and still write something that sticks in a listener’s mind. She’s previously written for other artists, and in fact, she penned “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which is on Miranda Lambert’s album Four the Record, and it’s at the top of the charts at the time of this post. Kacey’s version of the song is a little less “in-your-face” than Miranda’s, but it definitely deserves to be heard, even though it isn’t on Same Trailer Different Park.

The honesty of these songs is a big draw for me personally, as is the acoustic-driven, occasionally folk-rock influenced sound sprinkled throughout Same Trailer Different Park. With a debut album as humble and excellent as this, I can’t wait to see what the future holds for Kacey Musgraves.

You can stream “Same Trailer, Different Park” on Spotify here, or buy the album on iTunes here. You can also find Kacey on Twitter or Facebook to keep up with what she’s doing.

Keep talkin’ twangy!


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New Music Monday and an Album Review: Taylor Swift’s “Red”

Taylor Swift’s latest album, Red, is not necessarily “new” since it was released almost two weeks ago, and it also may not be what some would peg as country music. Nonetheless I wanted to write a review for it if for no other reason than to look at how her musical style has changed since her “Tim McGraw” days as a 16-year-old with that wildly curly hair.

If Taylor was going for an occasionally acoustic pop-folk sound, she hit the nail right on the head. “Holy Ground” has a subdued pop-rock feel to it, and I like the way it escalates with an almost electronic-sounding background as the song continues. My absolute favorite song on the album is “Everything Has Changed,” which is the duet she wrote and performed with Ed Sheeran (who is also going to be her tour mate in 2013). It’s a unique stripped down sound, it’s raw, it’s real, and it’s just catchy. A close runner up on my list of most played is “Begin Again,” which is probably the song with the strongest country-esque sound on the album. It’s the only song on  Red that’s playing on the radio station I’m interning for, and yes, I have been caught belting it in the studio while it’s on the air… no shame! The video for it is also arguably one of the best videos she’s ever made.

The title track, “Red,” is an emotionally intense song about a passionate relationship that’s all but doomed for failure. I do like the banjo riffs toward the beginning of “Red,” but they’re unfortunately buried under a hodge podge of more prominent electric guitar sounds as the song plays on.  “All Too Well” does a fantastic job of capturing the sad emotion when you’re trying so hard to let go of someone, but the sweet memories are still there and the hurt from the end hasn’t disappeared either. “The Lucky One” is a haunting tribute to a wide-eyed dreamer whose life was marred by a lifestyle of fame.

Three songs on the album were co-written with Max Martin and Shellback, both of whom have impressive track records… in the area of top 40 pop. Their influence is definitely prominent in all three: “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” “I Knew You Were Trouble” and “22.” “22” is by far the worst of the three. It’s homogenized and not at all original-sounding. It’s as if the co-writers were trying to replace Taylor’s usual heartfelt lyrics with an overused narrative about friends going out to a club and clinging to a stranger–completely uncharacteristic of Taylor’s typically classy image. As a friend and classmate of mine, Niki, put it: “It’s just this really cheap sounding song. It just… ugh.” Bingo, almost to the point of being repulsive.

“We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” has completely torn up radio and download charts. Lyrically, it’s shallow, but its explosive popularity is probably due to the fact that it has an extremely catchy pop hook.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” has an obvious dubstep influence, and surprisingly, I don’t hate it. Is it Taylor’s sound? Nope. But it’s a good song for jamming in the car when I’m in the right mood. Another black sheep on the album is “State of Grace,” which really doesn’t sound like anything else on the album or like any of Taylor’s earlier work. “Starlight” is an almost cheesy pop song written thanks to inspiration from Robert and Ethel Kennedy. It has a fluffy pop sound, but it’s a not nearly as bad as “22,” which is definitely my least favorite on the album.

If I’m being honest, “Sad Beautiful Tragic” and “The Last Time” (which was co-written with Jacknife Lee and Gary Lightbody and performed with Lightbody) are not much more than forgettable. They’re not necessarily bad, they just lack impact. If you told me to recall the tune of either of them on the spot after listening to them several times each within the mix of the album, I don’t know that I could.

“I Almost Do” and “Treacherous,” are most reminiscent of Taylor’s older, acoustic-guitar-based sound that was present on her debut album. “Stay Stay Stay” has the same laid back, innocent vibe as one of her initial hits, “Our Song.” I’ve been a Taylor fan since her first album wasn’t even huge yet, and her original sound was definitely more country, more carefree, and less… worldly. She used to write more from a small town perspective, and it’s very obvious how both her lyrics and her sound have changed as her fame has taken her anywhere and everywhere. It’s not necessarily a bad thing; it’s just a change that mirrors her current lifestyle as well as her journey toward maturity.

She’s been calling this her most “adventurous” album, and that it is. There’s a variety of genres represented on the album– you’ve got a copious amount of pop, a tiny bit of folk-country flavor, and even dubstep. The songwriting is decent, and we all know that’s why she’s making so much money anyway– she’s made herself and her lyrics incredibly relatable. When the album first came out, my friend and classmate Niki made the comment that the songs she wrote alone are much better than the ones she had co-writers on. In the case of the songs co-written with Max Martin and Shellback, I wholeheartedly agree. Taylor has her own distinctive style, and somehow the extra contributions of those pop-bent outsiders corrupted her signature feel that’s been present throughout her career.

Overall, I do really like Red. Do I love it for the same reasons I love Alan Jackson or Miranda Lambert? No, not at all, but it’s still worthy of merit. Some of the songs I have to be in a particular mood to enjoy, but nonetheless I’ve had it the album playing in my car since it came out. I’m hoping that Taylor can find a way to blend the great acoustic folky pop sound she’s explored on this album with some more country flavor on her next album. She’s a young star, so she has time to experiment with her signature sound and style, and that’s precisely what she’s doing. I just hope that when she does finally find that signature sound, it’s not terribly far from her country roots.

Find Taylor’s new album, Red, on iTunes here.

Keep talkin’ twangy!


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