During the primetime Grammy Awards broadcast on February 4, country experimenter/challenger and singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves announced her next full-length album with a 30-second ad that dripped with pastoral, “cottage core” imagery. Among more than a handful of recent, high profile album announcements – Lana Del Rey announced her upcoming country album just prior to the Grammys; Taylor Swift announced her next album during the ceremony; Beyoncé teased and confirmed her own country foray during the Super Bowl – Musgraves’ messaging felt very pointed, direct, and a bit disaffected. Given her track record and the lyrical content of the album’s title track, “Deeper Well,” it’s not surprising that Musgraves continues to follow her own arrow, wherever it points.
“I’m saying goodbye / To the people that I feel / Are real good at wasting my time…” she sings, and yes, it’s another free and unconcerned middle finger to Music Row, Nashville, and their puritanical country gatekeeping, but it’s so much more than that, too.
In the music video for “Deeper Well” (watch above), which seems pulled directly from a recent Star Wars film or a modernist, fantastic adaptation of Brontë or Austen, Musgraves inhabits a cozy and fearsome solitude. It’s reflected in the lyrics, as well, as the notorious stoner speaks of giving up on “wake and bakes” and giving up all of the flotsam and jetsam that’s gathered in her life since her enormously popular and successful album, Golden Hour, her prominent divorce, and the “controversy” that swirled around genre designations for her critically-acclaimed though nearly universally snubbed follow-up to Golden Hour, 2021’s star-crossed.
It seems that Musgraves is making music with even more intention, even more of herself, and even less concern with industry gatekeepers and mile markers. It also seems that, sonically and otherwise, Deeper Well will draw on the devil-may-care attitude of Same Trailer, Different Park and Pageant Material, while still guiding her audience and fans – by reaching them, directly – toward the same redemption and rebirth that she’s clearly found while making these songs. The production here listens like a combination of boygenius, Nickel Creek, and more of East Nashville and Madison than of Music Row and Broadway. But of course! This is Kacey Musgraves, after all.
There’s a slowing down apparent here, not only in the time that’s elapsed since star-crossed, not only in the imagery of the announcement and the first video, but also in Musgraves’ ambitions and how they fit into the overarching constellation of her work. Ambition has never been the focal point of her music, but it’s always been present; Musgraves is as deliberate and strategic as any woman (is required to be) in country music – like Swift, or Brittany Howard, or Ashley Monroe, or Maren Morris – but she’s leveraging her agency and her position as the CEO of her own outfit to continue to step away, bit by bit, block by block, mile by mile, from the parts of the music industry she’s never cared for.
As it turns out, her fans have never cared for the industry either, whether they know it or not. So, Deeper Well, is poised to – yet again – further broaden and expand the universe of Kacey Musgraves, even while her own, personal world seems to have deliberately shrunk… for the time being.
Photo Credit: Kelly Christine Sutton