This is Musgraves’ second major label album and is as distinctive and pleasing as her first one, Same Trailer Different Park. While the first album caused shock waves in Nashville (drug use! same sex affection!), the songs were not only well-written, but wouldn’t have caused a raised eyebrow outside the Nashville city limits. What was overlooked in the fuss over content in the first album was Ms Musgraves’ innate musicality and great voice, both of which feature bitgtime in Pageant Material.
Many of Kacey’s songs seem more personal this time, particularly Dime Store Cowgirl,This Town (which features a spoken clip of her grandmother) and the title track Pageant Material. They are sharply observed tales of the dynamics of a small town upbringing and life. Late to the Party by contrast is an out-and-out gentle love song reflecting on the merits of a private two person party’s being far better than a real party.
Biscuits, Miserable and Family is Family are more like Merry Go ‘Round and Follow Your Arrow from the first album, wry and ironic truisms that reinforce Musgraves’ position as one of the finest lyricists working in modern country music. Her duet with Willie Nelson on his Are you Sure? is a lovely acoustic workout, but why is it a ‘hidden track’, something I loathe.
Pageant Material is again produced by Musgraves, Luke Laird, and Shane MacAnally. Laird is among the excellent players - as is the wonderful Charlie Worsham on acoustic guitar, banjo and guitalele. The album features plenty of pedal steel, guitar, banjo and gorgeous strings, well arranged by Jordan Lehning.
Kacey’s heroines are Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn and either of them would be proud to have come out with an album this good. She wants to ‘write good songs – good country songs’ and Pageant Material is full of them, perfectly presented and sung. Kacey may not have been pageant material in her childhood in Texas, but in modern country she is a winner all the way.