The freshest face in country music, Kacey Musgraves, is back with her third studio album, Golden Hour, and it’s likely to go down as another classic entry in an oeuvre that continues to astound with its musical brilliance and raw emotional honesty. Her songwriting collaborators may have changed and the mood that this album evokes is a subtly different one, but Musgraves is never less than absolutely brilliant, and her work always makes for a joyous listen.
Golden Hour just feels like a Kacey Musgraves album, even though she has shifted away from more distinctly country tunes about small towns and the people within them to a greater number of love songs (in an interview, Musgraves stated that she’s “leading more with my heart than with my brain”). All the old elements are here, like gentle songs about getting up to nothing without the person you love (‘Lonely Weekend’ – ‘I guess everybody else is out tonight/Guess I’m hangin’ by myself, but I don’t mind’) and tunes that know you have to take the downs with the ups (‘Happy and Sad’ – ‘I’ve never been this far off of the ground/And they say everything that goes up must come down/But I don’t wanna come down’).
This is more than a happy romantic gushing over her love, however – with every song about romance, there’s another balancing it out. For every romantic ballad like ‘Butterflies’ (‘Cloud Nine was always out of reach/But now, I remember what it feels like to fly’), there’s a ‘Wonder Woman’ lamenting that love can’t ever be perfect (‘If I let you down, I don’t mean to/All I need’s a place to land’).
Musgraves remains dignified and nuanced, and so the songs take on a more personal quality
It all adds up to a cohesive whole (with some of the best pop songs you’re likely to hear this year), but some of the individual and more experimental pieces feel a bit strange on their own. There are psychedelic elements to ‘Oh, What a World,’ a song that opens with a reverberation reminiscent of the start of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that I still find strange to listen to, especially seeing as it is enveloped in ‘Butterflies’ and the gentle piano vignette ‘Mother’ – at just over a minute long, it’s more of a fragment of emotion than it is a song. It also took a few listens to acquaint myself with the disco beat of ‘High Horse’, although it really is a grower.
‘High Horse’ showcases another key Musgraves element – lyrics that are incisive and brilliant, but down to earth. The song is a small-town tune, with Musgraves targeting the local show-off, and skewering them in the way we all wish we could (‘Darling, you take the high horse and I’ll take the high road/If you’re too good for us, you’ll be good riding solo’) – a sass that brings to mind her early albums shines through here. Her vocals excel on these tracks, too – with an incredible voice, she is somehow able to be vulnerable and quiet but powerful all the same. In some ballads, other singers would choose to belt them out immediately – Musgraves remains dignified and nuanced, and the songs take on a more personal quality because of it.
Songs that could be cliché ring with an honesty that make them feel fresh and new
My pick of the album is the closer, ‘Rainbow’, a beautiful piano-vocal number that is both a tale of resilience in the face of adversity and a ballad intended for the LGBT+ community. It’s sweet and simple, but there’s an emotional power in the delivery that touches the heart with every listen. They say that the best music speaks to you on a deeper level – this lovely tune about soldiering on through the rain is a fine example of that.
Golden Hour is another incredible showing for Kacey Musgraves – although it shifts away from the country roots of some of her earlier work, it shows a musician completely at ease with herself and the music she wants to play. Songs that could be cliché ring with an honesty that make them feel fresh and new, and Musgraves is a fine guide through what is likely to be one of the best albums of this year.
Reece Goodall rates Golden Hour a 5/5 listen. The album is available via Spotify and Apple Music.