News and notes from Fredericksburg's entertainment scene
SOUNDS: When Keeping It Real Goes Country
BY ANDREW LEAHEY / FOR THE FREE LANCE–STAR
Last year, on an ordinary afternoon in rural Texas, Kacey Musgraves headed out to a ranch with her songwriting pals Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne. The three were looking to write a country song, and the Lone Star State—with its wide-open expanses and small, dust-colored towns—seemed like a good place to summon up the muse.
They sat down with their guitars, strummed a few chords and got to work. Hours later, “Merry Go ’Round” was finished.
“The song kind of wrote itself after we wrapped our brains around what we wanted to say,” Musgraves explained last week, in the midst of the first leg of her winter tour with Little Big Town. “It was inspired not only by the small communities that I grew up with in Texas, but also the way some people seem to settle for things when they’re scared to leave their comfort zones, which creates a cycle of regret.
“It wasn’t meant to point a finger,” she added. “It was meant to observe.”
Released in September, “Merry Go ’Round” paints Musgraves as a different kind of country artist, the kind who tackles common subjects like small-town life without resorting to ham-fisted, patriotic clichés. Her characters are sad and desperate, trapped in dead-end marriages with their high school sweethearts and reliant on a number of distractions—from Mary Kay cosmetics to pot—to get them through the day. “Merry Go ’Round” is an anti-anthem, but that hasn’t stopped the song from being one of the biggest tunes on country radio.
Next month, after playing the 9:30 Club with Little Big Town, Musgraves will hit the road with Kenny Chesney. Joining one of Chesney’s annual summer tours is a big honor, and a chance to follow in the footsteps of previous openers like Miranda Lambert and the Zac Brown Band. It’s also an opportunity to promote her major-label début, “Same Trailer Different Park,” which comes out three days after the tour’s kickoff show.
“We started working on it a year ago,” she said of the album, which she also co-produced, “and I could probably keep shaping it for another year. It’s time to let it go and let it live, though. This album is about where I was at this time in my life, what I was inspired by, what I was doing and what I was feeling and what kind of music I was making.”
Like “Merry Go ’Round,” “Same Trailer Different Park”—which takes its title from the song’s pre-chorus—embraces certain country traditions while turning others on their heads. The track list is eclectic, moving from sad-eyed ballads to brassy rave-ups to plaintive folk songs. Musgraves wrote or co-wrote every song on the disc, a rarity in a world of country singers who source their material from ghostwriters.
“The label had some slight hesitation with “Merry Go ’Round” being the first single,” she admitted, pointing to the marijuana reference in the song’s chorus, “but I pushed for it. I said, ‘Let’s put something out that makes people feel something.’ I did think it might anger a couple of people, but that’s a good thing because if you try to be everybody’s cup of tea, you’re just going to be boring.”
Andrew Leahey is a musician and freelance writer who is hooked on Mary Kay.