Album Review: Kacey Musgraves, ‘Deeper Well’

    Grammys week 2024 was an interesting time for Kacey Musgraves to start teasing her new album. The same night that Taylor Swift won her fourth Album of the Year and announced her next record, Musgraves shared a promotional spot featuring the opening line from Deeper Well, “My Saturn has returned.” Beyoncé wore a cowboy hat fans took as a clue for Renaissance Act II, which we now know is a country album named Cowboy Carter. Lana Del Rey announced a country album called Lasso, produced by Jack Antonoff, who said that the genre is “about to blow.” Musgraves herself is part of the proof, as her 2023 duet with Zach Bryan, ‘I Remember Everything’ – her first No. 1 hit – is still in the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100. Recognizing the country craze as a moment, though, doesn’t come naturally for an artist who grew up steeped in the culture. “Country feels like home to me,” she said in a recent interview. “It may come and go trend-wise in other genres, but there’s always something really timeless to me about it, whether it’s popular in pop music or not.”

    Musgraves has been steering away from the genre’s traditions for a long time, but Deeper Well doesn’t continue down the path of her pop-leaning, genre-blending last two albums, 2018’s resplendent Golden Hour and its shakier 2021 follow-up star-crossed. Yet it’s also not a step back – more of a hushed singer-songwriter effort than a back-to-basics country record; a conversation with herself rather than the rest of the industry. Reuniting with longtime collaborators Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, Musgraves isn’t interested in riding a wave or recalibrating her sound so much as finding her footing, safe in the knowledge that her comfort zone is filled with light. On the title track, she sings about leaving behind people and habits that “are real good at wastin’ my time,” and as much as she focuses on the things that matter, she’s also not rushing to get her points across. Though the album lacks big hooks and the songs sometimes blur into each, particularly in its meeker second half, the company she creates across its 42-minute runtime is pleasant, mellow, and affectingly contemplative. If you’re drawn to one of the singles, you’ll probably have a good time listening to the whole record, which wasn’t necessarily the case with star-crossed.

    Golden Hour and star-crossed were marked by a real sense of division, a beautiful and quietly ecstatic expression of love giving way to a theatrical and uncomfortably honest divorce album. Deeper Well is less effortful than its predecessor and never quite as euphoric as Golden Hour. Whether she sings about a breakup or new love – mostly the latter – Musgraves sounds grounded, using her personal life as the backdrop for greater existential rumination. “Are you just watching and waiting for spring/ Or do you have some kind of magic to bring?” she wonders after seeing the titular bird in ‘Cardinal’, though the kind of magic she dreams of on ‘Too Good to Be True’ is blissfully domestic: some breakfast, some love. Musgraves isn’t asking for a lot, and even when she sings “I need all your love/ Not just one piece,” confident she’d give all of it herself, she’s not making it sound like a grand exchange. It’s understated and natural, an easy certainty. Towards the end, she offers her definition of heaven – feeling “so safe and warm” – like it’s right there in front of her, something no one can disturb.

    Musgraves’ songwriting often gives weight to simple and uncomplicated truths, and without the bombast and narrative framing of star-crossed, it’s an easier sell. On ‘Dinner With Friends’, the titular event is just one of the things the singer is casually grateful for, but the way she ultimately describes them – “Things I would miss/ From the other side” – leaves a sudden air of wistfulness. ‘The Architect’ is a bit hokier – “something as small as an apple” leading her to ponder the universe’s design – while ‘Anime Eyes’ cleverly turns the song’s lovestruck silliness into a playful journey. Deeper Well is an album about acceptance as a form of surrender, whether you’re surrendering to love, heartbreak, or the way the wind blows; it only makes sense that it’s more musically restrained instead of swinging for the fences. But when she sees a tree bending in the wind on ‘Sway’, Musgraves can’t help but wish she could go about life with the same sense of composure and elegance. It’s a metaphor she embodies on one of the album’s richest arrangements, where gentle fingerpicking and light percussion give way to gorgeous vocal harmonies. “Most of the time/ All the thoughts in my mind keep me running/ Show me a place where I can just think of nothing,” she sings. On Deeper Well, that place, more fruitful than barren, sounds a lot like home.

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    Grammys week 2024 was an interesting time for Kacey Musgraves to start teasing her new album. The same night that Taylor Swift won her fourth Album of the Year and announced her next record, Musgraves shared a promotional spot featuring the opening line from...Album Review: Kacey Musgraves, 'Deeper Well'