“The pedal steel guitar is my favourite sound,” said Kacey Musgraves, delighting over the playing of her guitarist Brett Resnick. “It’s so country and western.” At heart, that’s a description which also applies to her own songwriting, although the young Texan treads the fine line between the (admittedly huge) niche of mainstream American country and full-blown pop stardom with ease.
Kacey Musgraves, Glasgow Armadillo ****
Here she recalled her first visit to Scotland, as support act for country’s big breakthrough act Lady Antebellum six years ago, and in her time she’s also balanced supports for Loretta Lynn and Kenny Chesney with tours opening for Katy Perry and – earlier this year – Harry Styles.
Predominantly comprising ballads and warm, thoughtful slow numbers, her songs bear a country twang and a downhome warmth, yet they also hold an undeniably contemporary edge; whether that’s in the hesitant, hip-hop influenced beat of the romantic Butterflies, or in the relevance and gentle humour of her best lyricism.
Musgraves made a dramatic entrance, backlit and shadowed at the top of an onstage staircase with guitar slung over her shoulders, her silver suit setting her apart from the dapper grey uniform worn by her six-piece, all-male and highly skilled band. She began with Slow Burn, a relaxed groove built around the smooth power of her vocal and the rich sense of encroaching maturity which her music rests upon, suspended in between youth and experience (“old soul waiting my turn / I know a few things, but I got a lot to learn”).
It’s in her sense of introspection and her thoughtful examination of the world around her where Musgraves really strikes home; particularly on the powerful and bittersweet reflection on dead-end small-town life that is Merry Go ‘Round, in which she sings of drug addiction, teen pregnancies and wasted life, and still manages to bring these lives a sense of sunset elegy.
Elsewhere she kicked her heels off for Golden Hour, the breezy title track of this year’s fourth album, and delivered a tender, yearning solo version of Mother, a personal, intergenerational reflection on becoming a parent. The soft groove of Velvet Elvis finally dragged people to their feet, much to Musgraves’ delight, yet it wasn’t until the encore – and her cover of NSYNC’s Tearin’ Up My Heart, followed by her own recent hit High Horse – that the set really stepped up a gear, and entered the realm of pure pop with confidence. - David Pollock