By Melissa Dalarossa
Standout Tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Butterflies,” “High Horse,” “Rainbow”
On her Grammy-winning album “Golden Hour,” country star Kacey Musgraves blends country and pop to deliver a charming and meditative exploration of love, loss and self.
“Golden Hour” opens with “Slow Burn,” a careful and contemplative track that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Musgraves’ crystalline vocals are backed by thoughtful acoustic guitars that build into a haze of layered vocals and instrumentals before transitioning smoothly back to a single acoustic guitar and Musgraves’ slight Texan twang.
Lyrics such as, “Grandma cried when I pierced my nose,” and, “I’m gonna do it my way,” signal Musgraves’ break from traditional values and a commitment to her own vision, two themes that have characterized her musical career. Yet she goes on to say in the outro, “I know a few things, but I still got a lot to learn,” tempering her confidence with self-awareness.
On “Butterflies,” delicate, sprightly piano chords provide the backdrop to classically country pedal steel guitars and poppy vocalizer harmonies — a combination that works surprisingly well thanks to its subtlety.
Musgraves uses butterfly imagery to contrast the sweetness of the early stages of love with the maturity that her relationship has brought her. The juvenile cliche “You give me butterflies” gives way to “I was hiding in doubt ‘til you brought me out of my chrysalis / And I came out new,” a testament to the metamorphosis that love can bring about.
The breakup ballad “Space Cowboy” marks the halfway and turning point of “Golden Hour,” as Musgraves moves from wonder and infatuation to a more removed, guarded attitude toward romance.
One of the album’s first singles and the winner of this year’s Grammy for best country song, it employs Wild West imagery of the lone, headstrong cowboy riding away over layered guitars and a decisive, thumping drum.
Musgraves sings with a resolved acceptance, conscious of the fade of love and the futility of wishful thinking, “I know my place and it ain’t with you / sunsets fade, and love does too.”
Whether she’s singing about a world seen through love’s rosy tint or aiming a sassy remark at an arrogant buzzkill, Musgraves maintains a self-possession that carries her throughout the album. Her lyrics convey an insight learned only through experience, as does the sonic landscape that provides their backdrop.
Rich in texture, the album manages to meld pop grooves and traditional country strains into something that is both thoughtful and refreshing, meditative and bubbly. Now on her fourth album, Musgraves has refined and updated her sound to reflect her own developing perspectives.
More than anything, “Golden Hour” is an album about relationships, both with other people and with oneself. Throughout her record, Musgraves demonstrates that healthy relationships start with oneself and that changes encountered both in love and life are inevitable, but ultimately valuable.
Musgraves shows the importance of adapting to these changes and being sensitive to emotional nuances when navigating the choppy waters of relationships.
Simple lyrics universalize her experiences with infatuation and heartache, but her enduring message is one of hope. The final words of the album emphasize this message, as Musgraves makes sure to let us know that “It’ll be alright.”