The Lowdown: With Golden Hour, pop-country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves delivers a warm, vulnerable album chock-full of masterful love songs that ring pure and true. Musgraves sounds more confident as a musician than she ever has — and her superb debut album, Same Trailer, Different Park, and its follow-up, Pageant Material, were hardly meek.
The Good: The record features just as many infectious odes to the magic of romance and partnership — such as sweet, dreamy single “Butterflies” and the glowing, adoring title track “Golden Hour” — as it does grounded, introspective songs that shine light into the dark spaces that eventually show up when two people commit to revealing themselves fully to one another.
With “Space Cowboy”, the artists tenderly wields her talent for wordplay as she declares, “You can have your space, cowboy.” She sounds like a person struggling, a person hurt, but not a person for whom the world is ending. More like someone who knows that struggle and hurt and unwanted distance are inevitable parts of love. Later in the album, Musgraves opines, “Baby, I ain’t Wonder Woman,” and that “If I let you down, I don’t mean to.” But she observes that, honestly, neither partner in this relationship knows how to fly. And that’s okay. They’re trying to be good for each other and that’s enough.
There are two tracks on the record that are just delicately managed enough to be called brilliant. The first is “Mother”, a stunning slip of a song that, in less than a minute and 30 seconds, uncovers the aching love that flows through generations of women and has never failed to bring me to tears. The second is album closer “Rainbow”, a rich, exquisite piano ballad evoking the best of Elton John.
The Bad: Musgraves tones down her trademark sharp wit and righteous sass, and in place of wry, astute commentary on societal expectations and family dynamics, there are gentle, sometimes bittersweet meditations on what it means to be loving but flawed — that is, what it means to be a human. This isn’t bad, but it will strike listeners as more subtle and low-key than previous efforts.
The Verdict: Golden Hour is the steady and self-assured product of an audacious artist whose body of work speaks for itself. The record exemplifies the deep and powerful magic of pure goodness. Musgraves hits one high note after another on Golden Hour; her talent as a songwriter and melody-maker is second to none, and each song is thoughtful, well-formed, and a delightful experience on its own. Together, the tracks on Golden Hour add up to an honest, cohesive musical experience that will linger in your mind and heart long after the final notes have faded.
Essential Tracks: “Space Cowboy”, “Mother”, “Happy & Sad”, and “Rainbow”