If Kacey Musgraves didn't possess a sense of irony, there'd be a sense of triumph to Pageant Material, the title of her second album. Her first, 2013's Same Trailer Different Park, caused a sensation in certain quarters, racking up accolades that outweighed its sales -- a situation reflecting country radio's systematic resistance to female artists more than the music itself. Despite this conspicuous lack of hits, Pageant Material doesn't make concessions to commercial radio. It is of a piece with Same Trailer Different Park, partially because a chunk of it was written around the same time, partially because Musgraves decides to move forward by harnessing the subtlety of "Merry Go 'Round" and "Follow Your Arrow," using their understated folk as a touchstone for her sophomore set. Despite the briskness of the near-novelty "Biscuits" -- its chorus call of "Mind your own biscuits and life will be gravy" revealing a taste for country corn somewhat at odds with a progressive reputation based on the all-inclusive "Follow Your Arrow," not to mention her fondness for weed (a predilection that resurfaces elsewhere here) -- Pageant Material favors softness, sometimes nearly swooning in its slowness, especially on the gorgeous keynote "High Time" and the closer "Fine," both so deliberate and hazy they evoke memories of lazy high-school dances. This lush sound is old-fashioned but, despite her stated rebellion and taste for weed, much of Musgraves' sensibility is fairly traditional. She and her collaborators -- usually co-producers Shane McAnally and Luke Laird, but Brandy Clark, Josh Osborne, and Natalie Hemby also bear credits -- concentrate on sculpting songs, tunes so subtle they benefit from the pretty, shaded production. Not all of Pageant Material sustains this delicately textured blend of song and sounds -- apart from "Biscuits," she stumbles when she gets lighter, particularly on "Family Is Family," where it seems like she can't wait to be rid of those leeches -- but it's hardly enough to prevent the album from being a rich, enchanting collection of stories, confessions, and the occasional joke.
Pageant Material Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine