Although mainstream American country music has plenty of ‘young people’ it wasn’t until listening to Kacey Musgrave’s debut album, Same Trailer Different Park, that I realised there aren’t that many ‘young voices’ – by which I obviously mean young songwriters. Those songwriters would exist, of course, but they’re not necessarily appearing in the mainstream (yet).
Musgrave is clearly in the mainstream – she has already been the subject of a profile in The New York Times Magazine
, her album is on the Mercury Nashville label, a division of Universal, and she has a publishing deal with Warner/Chappell – and thus her cultural context is more Carrie Underwood than Gillian Welch. Accordingly, her album has to be somewhat listened to in that context. And in that context it is remarkable.
Same Trailer Different Park is a collection of well-constructed songs that tell stories of small towns and small dreams, of disappointments and heartbreaks that perhaps don’t break as hard as they should if they’d actually meant something. It is, in its way, a manifesto of a young thinking woman’s life – these are her experiences, this is what she has learned, this is what she plans to do again and what she plans never to do again.
If we pitch this album next to two other releases that have come from young women this year – Melody Pool’s The Hurting Scene
and Katie Brianna’s Dark Side of the Morning
– then it is not as intriguing, not as dark nor as joyful, not as lyrically complex, not as interesting
. But in Australia, ‘mainstream country music’ arguably encompasses a much broader range of voices, both melodic and lyrical. In Australia, Kacey Musgraves would not be remarkable. Which, to reiterate, is why context is important.
That isn’t to say that there’s not a lot for Australian country music fans to like about Same Trailer Different Park – Musgraves’s voice is endearingly sincere yet knowing, and her songs have the dismayed wistfulness that can be often be found in young adults who are finally realising that life isn’t perhaps all they were led to expect it would be.
It is also a very accomplished first album. No doubt Musgraves had all the assistance that a big label can offer, but there are plenty of artists who have that and don’t produce an album of this standard. It makes me excited to see what she comes up with next, and I’m certainly playing this album regularly.
This album – along with the others mentioned above, and more still, like Catherine Britt’s Always Never Enough
– is also a sign that country music as a genre is in the hands of very talented, steady, clear-eyed singer-songwriters who have stories to tell, a conviction that there’s an audience for them and the ability to bridge the two. Fans of the genre could honestly not ask for anything more.