by Julian Spivey
The biggest question surrounding Kacey Musgraves’ third studio album Golden Hour has been: is it country music? It’s a valid question, but at most it should be secondary. The biggest question with her album is that of which should come first for any album: is it good or bad? Now, of course, “good” or “bad” music is subjective, which I hate that I’m typing because it’s obvious. But, for my personal tastes I find Golden Hour to be extremely disappointing.
When I heard Musgraves was going to be releasing a new album this year it instantly skyrocketed to the top of my “most anticipated albums of the year” list. That anticipation started to wane a bit when she released two songs “Space Cowboy” and “Butterflies” – which sounded vastly different from much of what appeared on Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material. The anticipation essentially completely faded when I heard the disco-infused “High Horse” last week. This wasn’t the Musgraves I knew and loved. That’s my problem, not hers.
Artists must go wherever their hearts, souls and brains tell them to and if they want to mix up their sound or go in a different direction it’s up to them and only them. If we as listeners don’t like it we can complain about it, we can write negative reviews if we truly think the songs or album aren’t that great, but that’s about it. Golden Hour has disappointed me, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying Musgraves has. After all, she has co-written and released some of the best music in the country music genre of the last decade.
Golden Hour as an entirety to me is unfortunately dull, which is something I didn’t think Musgraves, who came off as a spitfire on her first two albums, could be. There isn’t a whole lot upbeat about the record, which typically isn’t something that bothers me. For example, I’m a huge fan of Jason Isbell and his records aren’t exactly upbeat much of the time, but they intrigue me on a story and songwriting level. Golden Hour doesn’t do that for me.
Much has been made about how Golden Hour is Musgraves’ most personal album thus far and that, along with the more pop-influenced sound of the record, might be the biggest issue with me. It’s great that she’s getting more personal for her, but maybe I prefer her witty takes on the world or the way she crafts a fictional story a little bit more.
“Space Cowboy” is potentially the best track on the album. It’s a lovely sounding breakup tune with nice wordplay in the title. It’s something I could have easily seen on either of her first two albums, but it maybe wouldn’t have been among the top half of songs on either of those albums.
“Butterflies” is the dullest track I’ve heard from Musgraves period. I’m sure this is an incredibly personal track for her written about her husband Ruston Kelly, a fine artist in his own right, but it’s just too cutesy for me. Props for likely becoming the only country (or country-ish) song to ever include the word “chrysalis” though.
“Slow Burn,” which kicks off Golden Hour, is one of the better tracks (note I’d normally use the word “highlights,” but I don’t feel it’s applicable here) off the album. The chorus is catchy. I really do like the first verse, which borrows a line from her unreleased tribute “John Prine,” which should’ve been on an album by now, but for some reason it loses me lyrically around the second verse. I’m not even sure I completely know why yet.
“Mother” is a track that truly disappoints me. It disappoints me because it’s actually damn good, but only feels like a sketch. It feels like right when it gets going it’s over. It could’ve been a great mother/daughter relationship song, but it just stops at a minute and 18 seconds when there should’ve been more verses. Musgraves says she was influenced by LSD when she wrote this song. Maybe had she been sober it would’ve turned into the great piece it could’ve been.
“Rainbow” is a lovely piano ballad, but I don’t have too much to say about it after my first few listens. I feel like I’ve heard better piano ballads within the genre this year – check out Caitlyn Smith’s Starfire, which includes “East Side Restaurant” and “Scenes from a Corner Booth at Closing Time on a Tuesday” (the title is almost greater than the song). Actually, one of the biggest problems with Golden Hour is Starfire did it better when it came to pop-influences.
Much of the album just runs together for me. Thus, there’s really no reason to go through it track-by-track. Many of the tracks sound alike and there aren’t that many lines that popped out to me instantly, like there have been on other Musgraves albums.
Musgraves does sound as good as she always has vocally. I think she has one of the most underrated voices around. I’ve seen people claim it’s average, but God does it sound lovely to me. It really does fit the pop genre, as well as it does country.
Many traditionalist fans of country music (and I honestly don’t know if I’m in that category – though I suspect many who claim to be truly shouldn’t) don’t like anything that isn’t strictly fiddle and steel guitar sounding. These fans can get a little xenophobic about what they want from their country music. We don’t want outsiders coming in with their different sounds like hip-hop or pop or even ‘80s style rock and ruining “our” genre. I’m like this when it comes to the type of stuff you hear on modern country radio from the likes of Luke Bryan and Florida Georgia Line, etc. What Musgraves have done with this album isn’t exactly that. Sure, if by some miracle a disco-flavored song like “High Horse” is played on mainstream radio I would turn the station because it’s just not my thing, but it’s not as bad as most of what FGL or Bryan and others are churning out.
This album is being praised by many who don’t typically praise or even follow “country music” and I’m not sure that’s a good thing. If it somehow can bring people into loving Merle Haggard or Loretta Lynn than great, but I don’t see it. There are many great albums being made annually that would fit that headline much better. Hell, Ashley McBryde released one the same day as Musgraves that fits that headline better. What’s good about country music is something that holds true to the genre. That’s not to say there isn’t room for growth within the genre. It doesn’t have to all be steel and fiddle.
Much of what we see from Musgraves on this album is frankly good pop music, that’s just not what I’m wanting. There’s a reason I don’t listen to artists who influenced this record like the Bee Gees, Sade or Daft Punk. It’s because I don’t care for their type of music. Does that make it good or bad? Not necessarily. It’s just not for me. The disappointment factor comes in because I thought Musgraves was for me. Honestly, she probably still will be. I don’t really think we’re done hearing the Same Trailer, Different Park Musgraves. I don’t believe this is a Taylor Swift situation where she probably should’ve been pop all along, but it took much of a decade to figure it out. I also don’t think she’s trying something new to finally get airplay on country radio or maybe even cross-over to pop radio. I believe she really feels what’s on this album. I believe as a country girl from Golden, Texas we’re going to see Musgraves performing stuff like “Merry Go ‘Round” and “Biscuits” again. I’d almost bank on that.
by Julian Spivey
12. “City of Stars” by Ryan Gosling (La La Land)
Ryan Gosling is a white man who saves the genre of jazz in this Hollywood fairytale. It’s really good, despite this. The song that helps him save the genre is “City of Stars,” composed by Justin Hurwitz with lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, the extremely catchy number from 2016’s “La La Land” that won Best Original Song at last year’s Oscars and will no doubt be in your head the remainder of the day.
11. “I’m Easy” by Keith Carradine (Nashville)
Director Robert Altman wanted his actors in 1975’s “Nashville” to write and perform their own songs for his film. Keith Carradine wrote and performed two for the film, including the Oscar-winning “I’m Easy,” which became a top 20 Billboard hit and remains a lovely ballad to this day.
10. “Theme from ‘Shaft’” by Isaac Hayes (Shaft)
Isaac Hayes’ “Theme from ‘Shaft’” is without a doubt one of the coolest Oscar-winning original songs with its soulfully funky sound. Hayes became the first African-American to win Best Original Song in 1971 and perhaps even more surprising is the fact he was the very first artist to win the honor for a song he both wrote and performed for the film – something that’s become much more common in the years since.
9. “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” by B.J. Thomas (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid)
“Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach for 1969’s Western “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and performed by B.J. Thomas, the third choice after Ray Stevens and Bob Dylan both turned it down. It’s honestly a weird selection for the movie as it plays over a fun scene where Paul Newman and Katharine Ross pal around on a bicycle, arguably a scene that could’ve been cut and not affected the movie in the least.
8. “Lose Yourself” by Eminem (8 Mile)
Eminem made Academy Awards history when his “Lose Yourself” from “8 Mile,” in which he portrays a rapper based on his actual upbringing, became the first hip-hop song to win Best Original Song. To this day “Lose Yourself” is one of the greatest and most acclaimed hip-hop tracks of all-time.
7. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Esther Williams & Ricardo Montalban (Neptune’s Daughter)
“Baby, It’s Cold Outside” is one of two Christmas-related (though it wasn’t really intended as a holiday song) songs to win Best Original Song at the Oscars. Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” performed by Bing Crosby, in the film “Holiday Inn” won the Oscar in 1942. “Baby, It’s Cold Outside,” written by Frank Loesser, appeared in 1949’s “Neptune’s Daughter” performed by Esther Williams and Ricardo Montalban. It’s basically been recorded by everybody else in music since.
6. “The Ballad of High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)” by Tex Ritter (High Noon)
You don’t see too many movies open with a song that’s essentially a rundown of what you’re about to see, but “The Ballad of High Noon” does this brilliantly. Tex Ritter’s terrific performance of the Oscar-winner composed by Dimitri Tiomkin with lyrics by Ned Washington foreshadows the film’s ending that won Gary Cooper his second Best Actor award.
5. “Moon River” by Audrey Hepburn (Breakfast at Tiffany’s)
“Moon River” is simply one of the most beautiful songs ever written. It was created by multiple time Oscar-winning duo of composer Henry Mancini and lyricist Johnny Mercer for the 1961 film “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” The song is originally performed by Audrey Hepburn as main character Holly Golightly in one of the film’s most beautiful scenes. Believe it or not, Paramount Pictures executives wanted this scene cut because they didn’t like Hepburn’s performance. Hepburn essentially said, “Over my dead body” and it remained.
4. “Falling Slowly” by Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova (Once)
The great thing about the Academy Awards Best Original Song category is it allows for original songs from the smallest of movies to win an Oscar. This was the case for “Falling Slowly” from 2007’s Irish romance “Once,” a small budget release from director John Carney that featured real-life musicians Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova who bond over their similar desire of music. It’s one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard, period.
3. “Over the Rainbow” by Judy Garland (The Wizard of Oz)
If you polled a large group of people on what the greatest movie song of all-time is the winner would likely be “Over the Rainbow” as performed by Judy Garland’s Dorothy in the 1939 classic “The Wizard of Oz.” The song, composed by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E.Y. Harburg, has become a music standard since its appearance in this film that is very likely the most watched film of all-time. The song appears just five minutes into the movie and honestly becomes its show-stopping scene.
2. “Streets of Philadelphia” by Bruce Springsteen (Philadelphia)
Bruce Springsteen is likely the biggest rock star to ever win an Oscar for Best Original Song doing so for his excellent “Streets of Philadelphia” for director Jonathan Demme’s 1993 film “Philadelphia,” featuring Tom Hanks’ first Best Actor-winning performance as a man dying of AIDS. The song would not only win an Oscar, but also Song of the Year at the Grammy Awards, a rare feat for a song written for a movie.
1. “The Weary Kind” by Ryan Bingham (Crazy Heart)
The Academy Awards have a great history of honoring country music portrayals. Sissy Spacek, Robert Duvall, Reese Witherspoon and Jeff Bridges have all won Oscar acting awards for great portrayals of both real and fictional country music singers. Ryan Bingham’s “The Weary Kind,” which he co-wrote with the film’s soundtrack producer T-Bone Burnett, essentially serves as the theme song for Bad Blake, Bridges’ character. “The Weary Kind” is a damn near perfect country song.