Her magnificent new album “Same Trailer, Different Park,” contains some of the most straightforward storytelling you could ever ask of a dozen country tunes. No bells, no whistles, no throwaway lyrics — just 12 pithy singalongs, often beautiful, sometimes brilliant.
“Merry Go Round,” her debut single about the psychic vise grip of small-town living, punches hardest:
“Mama’s hooked on Mary Kay,
Brother’s hooked on Mary Jane,
And daddy’s hooked on Mary two doors down.
Mary, Mary, quite contrary,
We get bored, so we get married,
And just like dust we settle in this town.”
Of any hit that’s cracked the country music airwaves in a decade, “Merry Go Round” feels the most “real” — a dangerous word that the rest of America haphazardly lobs toward Nashville as a synonym for “authentic.” Or “idealized.” Or “anything Taylor Swift says.”
But Musgraves’s lyrics feel so much realer than those other quasi-reals. Yes, her tunes are set in trailer parks and roadside diners, but her music doesn’t evoke a sense of place so much as a time in life — that sobering stretch of 20-something when your idealism first starts going sour.
“It’s like I saw behind the curtain, and nobody’s an adult,” Musgraves says, sitting on her tour bus outside Washington’s 9:30 Club. “We’re all [in trouble], we’re all in this together, we’re all big kids trying to figure it out.” Then she pops a gummy bear in her mouth.
When she talks about songwriting, she swears. When she talks about her tiny home town of Golden, her vowels turn Texan. And when she talks about fame, she slows down to really think about it. Her jaw clenches, her poise momentarily slips and her brown eyes reflexively go misty, because it’s Feb. 14 and she’s in a weird city somewhere between East Texas and the senseless void of American celebrity.
“Fame freaks me out,” she says. “Do you just wake up different? I don’t know how to scale it back if it gets too crazy.”
She sighs, sniffles, apologizes, laughs, says she’s working on two hours of sleep and dabs her eyes before any tears go spilling down her cheek.
Her sister Kelly knocks on the door of the bus, a rolling apartment bigger than the trailer Kacey remembers as the sisters’ first home.
Kelly, a 22-year-old photographer now living in Dallas, wears her nose ring in the opposite nostril from Kacey’s, tours with her whenever she can and snaps portraits of her at every turn. She remembers spotting Willie Nelson backstage once and pushing her big sister through the tiny window of opportunity: “‘We can either get a picture of you smiling, or we can get a picture of you kissing him.’”