There is little room for subtlety in music's mainstream. If you don't have a big voice, backed by a big beat, with big production values, chances of getting noticed are, well, small.
Throw in the current climate in country music that overwhelmingly favors men, and Kacey Musgraves' new album "Pageant Material" (Mercury Nashville) becomes nothing short of a musical miracle.
Without ever raising her voice or wavering from politeness, Musgraves takes on the current state of country music in "Good Ol' Boys Club" -- "When did it become about who you know and not about how good you are?" she asks -- and stands her ground on any number of issues.
Her decision not to change one line about how urinating "in my yard ain't gonna make yours any greener" in her charming single "Biscuits" may have cost her radio airplay, but she's fine with that decision. It should all work out for Musgraves, though, since the tolerance-promoting sing-along "Biscuits" is already generating "song of the year" buzz.
What "Pageant Material" has over her breakthrough "Same Trailer Different Park" album is its slightly wider variety of styles and slightly more direct lyrics.
There may be plenty of aching pedal-steel guitar on the gorgeously cool "Die Fun," but it has country rock at its heart. The clever "Cup of Tea" adds some sweeping strings to a playful acoustic bluegrass number to build something new out of more traditional parts. She closes the album with a classic country waltz, "Fine."
Musgraves' greatest strength, though, is in her storytelling. The way she captures bucolic life in "This Town" is remarkably evenhanded, as she declares, "As big as we're getting, this town's too small to be mean." In "Pageant Material"'s title track, she wonders "It ain't that I don't care about world peace, but I don't see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage," before confessing, "I ain't exactly Miss Congenial."
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It's that kind of logic that makes Musgraves a delight and "Pageant Material" an undeniable winner.
THE GRADE A