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Kacey Musgraves – Star Crossed

September 16, 2021

Kacey’s Golden Hour is one of my favorite albums of the last 5 years. One of the great mysteries in music is the fine line between country and pop/rock. This is not a new phenomenon. Was Patsy Cline pop or country? Was Johnny Cash rock or country? Is Shania Twain pop or country? Is Garth Brooks rock or country? You get the idea. The music business seems more flexible these days. Taylor Swift can fully transition from country to pop. Darius Rucker can transition from rock to country. Kacey started her career with country – her first two albums are unabashedly country. But with 2018’s Golden Hour, Kacey went pop – not even country pop – it was pop. On Star-Crossed she doubles down on pop – it has no trace of country. One of my theories (not original) is that country is adult music – it is dealing with adult themes. Pop music generally deals with teenage themes. By that definition Golden Hour and Star-Crossed are country albums – those are adult albums dealing with adult issues.

Star-Crossed is a concept album – more specifically a divorce album. An interesting sequel to Golden Hour which was a falling in love record. What is remarkable is that Star-Crossed is not bitter. It is candid about the unraveling of a marriage, but it is also a classic tale of what “doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

Per Kacey: “You can easily say it is a post-divorce album, which yes, it is factually on paper. But this album is full of a lot of love and gratitude for that person, for Ruston, for my life and my ability to explore all the emotions as a songwriter.”

Despite being a concept album, each song can be appreciated as singles, but it is also a cohesive album that tells a story.

The album is what I call a “grower” – meaning it grows on you with each listen. It took about five times through before it hooked me. Now with each listen more is revealed to me both sonically and lyrically. Golden Hour was love at first listen.

The album ends with a cover of “Gracias a la vida” (Spanish for “Thanks to life”). Given it is sung in Spanish and clearly a cover I did some research. It is a song written, composed and originally performed by Chilean Violeta Parra and made famous by Mercedes Sosa. The song “Gracias a la vida” was considered as a “humanist hymn” that finds joy in the little things in life. Ironically, Parra committed suicide shortly after recording the song. The song has been frequently covered by Latin singers. Joan Baez popularized the song in the United States in 1974 by including it on her album of the same name.

Per Kacey: “I think it’s interesting that this song was on the last album she had written; she did commit suicide. I think that adds to the intense, tragic, and sorrowful nature of what this song is saying ‘thank you’ to life. You’ve given me so much. You’ve given me the beautiful and the terrible. You’ve given me the pain and the laughter. And I’m thankful for all of it.”

In light of all I learned, it is a perfect ending to the album.

The album has a movie to accompany it available on Paramount +. I have not seen it yet, but it sounds intriguing per this mini review:

In a collection of three acts, Musgraves transforms: First she’s a doe-eyed, iron-wielding wife; then a fleeing cross-country traveler, crashing head-on with heartbreak; and finally a woman rebuilt (by Eugene Levy’s team of surgeons, no less), a dark horse shedding the innocence of newlywed bliss for the shock of real life.

Musgraves transformed from a mid-tier country act to a top-tier pop act with Golden Hour, it was a masterpiece. A let down would not be unexpected. But Star-Crossed has maintained, and I would say, enhanced her greatness. Not Golden Hour Part 2, but a subsequent masterpiece. Sonically and lyrically it is cut from the same cloth. Not so much “more of the same” as much as with Golden Hour Kacey found her voice and with Star-Cross she has perfected it.


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