Texas born singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves has long captured the hearts of contemporary country fans with an enchanting voice and stunning looks. In recording her newest album, Golden Hour, she set out to cross genres, documenting her growing personal life in the process. Her fourth release on Mercury Nashville Records diverts from her country roots and into the pop mainstream, maintaining mild folk influences while depicting ordinary existential narratives.
The opening track “Slow Burn” sets the mood for the album with some nice acoustics and a touching vocal performance by Kacey. The soft drums that kick in at the start of the second verse give the song a great lift of momentum as well. This track serves as a just preview for the rest of the record, not just sonically but lyrically – which I say with a wince. Pleasant instrumentation, pretty singing and cheesy lyrics prove to be a frequent theme on Golden Hour. “Texas is hot, I can be cold, grandma cried when I pierced my nose,” is the first of many eye roll inducing lines scattered throughout the album.
Kacey consistently turns in good performances, but her songs largely suffer from the skin-deep topics she presents. I’m all for simple songs about love and loss, but when nearly each one on the record is coated with lyrical cliches, the simplicity becomes harder to tolerate. “Butterflies” is filled with redundant metaphors and references to the sky; “I didn’t know him and I didn’t know me, cloud nine was always out of reach,” she sings.
The tacky lyrics are difficult to overlook and while this album is of limited artistic depth, Kacey possesses one outstanding quality that many other artists can only wish for: she has an amazing voice. It carries an effortless mystique, often creating its own space, especially when she holds a note for a few seconds. It comes across as innocent yet confident, making passable cuts like “Wonder Woman” just sticky enough to return to a few times.
Similar to the songwriting aspect of the record, the production on Golden Hour runs pretty conventional, though there are a few highlights. Subtle banjo plucking and a wiry steel guitar create a lovely atmosphere on “Oh, What A World.” “Love Is A Wild Thing” – maybe the album’s lone country-pop masterpiece – manages to capture the best qualities of Golden Hour in a masterful four-minute showing of melody and tight knit playing. It is perhaps only topped by the tender intimacy of “Rainbow,” a sentimental piano ballad that closes the album on a strong note.
The majority of Golden Hour stays within the spacey, folk-pop realm, but there are a handful of sonic experiments, even if they are rather bland. “Lonely Weekend” is another basic pop tune that sports a phony Caribbean sound, but I have to admit, I have a hard time resisting the song’s loose, tipsy vibe. And if you save the cringeworthy chorus on “High Horse,” Kacey nearly had herself a fun dance track.
The little charm this record has can be boiled down to two things: Kacey’s angelic voice and occasionally well-calculated songwriting. A number of tracks on this record, even some of the lackluster ones, are catchy and have medium to great replay value. The subject matter is consistently shallow but Golden Hour is full of decent songs with good melodies. As much as this record wants to come across as artistic and thoughtful, the rudimentary song structures and plain sailing lyrics are what keeps it from being a meaningful album.