The title of country singer-songwriter Kacey Musgraves’ new album, “Same Trailer Different Park,” comes from her acclaimed country hit “Merry Go ’Round,” which was released in September 2012. It was a surprising masterpiece, displaying a blunt kind of cynicism rarely seen in country music. It was such a contradiction to the genre’s rural obsession that it might as well have called “Miserable in a Small Town.”
Like many reviewers, I placed the song high on my end-of-year list (at No. 19, to be exact). If “Same Trailer Different Park” had been released in 2012, however, I may have ranked “Merry Go ’Round” significantly lower. It’s a fantastic song, but it also seemed much bigger as a single (and an introduction to Musgraves) than it does as an album track. It isn’t even the main highlight of the record.
The opening track, “Silver Lining,” is meaningful, melodically irresistible, and despite not topping “Merry Go ’Round” lyrically or musically, still manages to be the greatest album-opener called “Silver Lining” (a distinction that, thanks to Rilo Kiley, is quite an achievement).
This is followed by “My House,” which, with a great harmonica part that reminds me a bit of the melody from Buffalo Springfield’s “Go and Say Goodbye,” details the high and low points of living in an R.V. She begins with, “Who needs a house up on a hill when you can have one on four wheels?” before reaching a chorus that states, “If I can’t bring you to my house, I’ll bring my house to you.” This is the point where those who thought the “Mary” references in her hit would be her strongest lyrical points should start paying attention.
After these songs get things started, “Merry Go ’Round” makes its appearance. Like many confident new artists, Musgraves buried her hit, almost as if she’s trying to convince people it’s not just a fluke. This tactic is actually quite convincing here. The first two tracks are among the many fine moments on “Same Trailer Different Park” and make you eager to see what follows.
What does follow is a collection of consistently enjoyable gems, all with their own topics that paint Musgraves as a masterful storyteller. “Blowin’ Smoke” is about the hopelessness of dead-end jobs, “Keep It to Yourself” concerns an ex trying to revamp a relationship and “Stupid” attacks the idea of love as a whole. The two least memorable tracks, “I Miss You” and “Step Off,” come in the middle of the album and really don’t interrupt the flow too much.
She doesn’t get to toping “Merry Go ’Round” until the second-to-last cut. The magnificent “Follow Your Arrow” starts out as an attack on double standards and then turns into the most progressive country song since Brad Paisley’s “Welcome to the Future.”
“Make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls if that’s something you’re into/When the straight and narrow gets a little too straight/Roll up a joint, or don’t/Just follow your arrow wherever it points.”
Between the pro-gay statement, the encouragement to smoke (but, even stranger, only if you want to) and the basic request that everyone be their own person, the chorus to this song means a lot more than it should in the 21st century, and if it becomes the hit single it deserves to be, it could be as important a political statement as Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill.”
With that said, I do wish the line could have been more universal (maybe substitute “if that’s something you’re into” with “whatever you’re into”).
Even though I was hoping for (and even expecting) a Miranda Lambert-level album from Musgraves, I didn’t expect one superior to every one of Lambert’s solo LPs. “Same Trailer Different Park” is just that. Nearly every track sounds like a single, some even seem capable of being bigger than “Merry Go ‘Round” and it continually moves at a solid pace.
A realist in a genre popular for its revenge fantasies and drinking songs, Kacey Musgraves may seem fairly pessimistic. But, there’s also hope in her voice. It’s that hope, way more than the pessimism, that makes Musgraves seem capable of becoming one of the most important artists of this decade.
Key tracks: “Follow Your Arrow,” “Merry Go ‘Round,” “Back on the Map,” “Blowin’ Smoke” and “My House.”