Same Trailer Different Park
Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Tim McGraw and Jason Aldean—some of country music's biggest icons—all got nominated for Best Country Album at the Grammys this year. None of them, however, walked away with the old-fashioned phonograph trophy. Instead, 25-year-old newcomer Kacey Musgraves did, nabbing that prestigious award for her major-label debut Same Trailer Different Park.
Then again, labeling Musgraves a newcomer isn't quite accurate, though admittedly she's not yet a household name. Musgraves, who hails from East Texas, has been singing since she was just 8. She's self-released several solo albums. And she placed seventh during the 2007 season of the (now defunct) reality singing competition Nashville Star. Exposure there led to songwriting gigs for the likes of Martina McBride and Miranda Lambert.
Like Lambert, Musgraves' songwriting prowess lies in holding up familiar country narratives … then holding a BIC lighter underneath them as she watches them smolder.
"Silver Lining" suggests that apart from life's tough moments, we don't really appreciate the good times ("If you're gonna find a silver lining/It's gotta be a cloudy day/If you wanna fill your bottle up with lighting/You're gonna have to stand in the rain"). Musgraves also insists that what's most necessary when we struggle isn't good luck, but a willingness to work hard and put ourselves out there.
"My House" pays playful tribute to the joys of love and commitment … while living in an RV: "If I can't bring you to my house/I'll bring my house to you/It don't matter where we go/We'll never be alone/Anywhere beside you is a place that I'll call home."
Sunny moments like that one, however, are in the minority. More often, Musgraves tells sad stories that unpack their protagonists' desperation as they struggle to deal with reality. But there's certainly good that can come from that. "Dandelion" gives us a woman who realizes that her superstitious dalliances haven't given her the love she longs for ("Falling stars and lucky pennies/Have let me down so many times before/And you're just one more"). "Back on the Map" longs for a healthy romance to help restore someone's sense of orientation.
"Blowin' Smoke" finds a group of cigarette-smoking waitresses criticizing one of their own who takes off for a new life in Las Vegas, even as the song's narrator admits that those left behind have a hard time telling the truth about their own struggles. "Step Off" tells a meanspirited gossip that her self-righteous, judgmental attitude will leave her isolated. On "Keep It to Yourself," a woman maintains her self-respect when she tells an ex having second thoughts not to come crawling back.
Country music often sweetly sings the praises of Mom, apple pie and small-town life. Musgraves' hit "Merry Go Round" ruthlessly focuses on the grimy side of things, parking itself next to all those folks who feel trapped there. "Same hurt in every heart/Same trailer, different park/Mama's hooked on Mary Kay/Brother's hooked on Mary Jane/Daddy's hooked on Mary two doors down." Marriage and parenthood get similarly torpedoed: "We get bored, we get married/Just like dust, we settle in this town." The song's brutal concluding verse says, "Jack and Jill went up the hill/Jack burned out on booze and pills/And Mary had a little lamb/Mary just don't give a d‑‑n." Elsewhere, the song also implies that lots of folks just suffer through church to keep up appearances ("And it don't matter what you believe/Come Sunday morning, you best be there in the front row like you're supposed to").
"Follow Your Arrow" suggests that in the face of moral tension or paradoxes, you should just do whatever you feel like: "If you save yourself for marriage/You're a bore/If you don't save yourself for marriage/You're a horrible person/ … You're damned if you do/And you're damned if you don't/So you might as well just do/Whatever you want." Later, that idea also gets applied to homosexuality and smoking marijuana: "So make lots of noise/Kiss lots of boys/Or kiss lots of girls/If that's what you're into/When the straight and narrow/Gets a little too straight/Roll up a joint, I would/And follow your arrow/Wherever it points."
"It Is What It Is" delivers a matter-of-fact booty call as a lusty lady rings a man who may or may not still be her boyfriend. Lyrics on "Keep It to Yourself" imply a now broken-up couple once regularly slept together.
"Silver Lining" includes this smoking reference: "Light up and smoke 'em if you have 'em." Likewise, smoking is represented as just part of life on "Blowin' Smoke." "Stupid" implies that a bad relationship drove a woman to drink and tobacco in order to cope.
Same Trailer Different Park is an apt title. There are all kinds of countrified clichés here, from waitresses fleeing to Vegas; to love in an RV; to drinkin', smokin', tokin' and late-night lovin'. That's the same part.
The different part, at least for chunks of the album, is that Musgraves delights in twisting those subjects up in knots, sometimes for a good cause … sometimes for a bad one. "Silver Lining" disses luck in favor of hard work, and even "Blowin' Smoke" features bits and pieces of soul-searching truth. But the likes of "Follow Your Arrow" get shot pretty far out in the wrong direction.
After Musgraves performed that latter song at the Grammys, Plugged In's Bob Waliszewski had this to say about it:
"I'm saddened Grammy viewers again got such a one-sided 'sermonette.' Still, there's nothing new under the sun and Musgraves' worldview is just a rehashed version of what the serpent used to tempt Eve in the Garden of Eden. The devil didn't preach much to Eve. He did something more powerful: He essentially got Eve to question God's motives, bringing to her mind that perhaps God was trying to keep what really makes life enjoyable and meaningful away from her and Adam. Musgraves has bought into the same 'apple,' and would love to have music fans everywhere join her in the fruity snack."