You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves’ ‘Golden Hour’ and Ashley McBryde’s ‘Girl Going Nowhere’

On their excellent new albums, Kacey Musgraves charts a sweeter, folkier path, while newcomer Ashley McBryde moves in on the bad-ass space.

On their excellent new albums, Kacey Musgraves charts a sweeter, folkier, less overtly country path, while equally gifted newcomer Ashley McBryde moves in on the bad-ass space with a vengeance.

When Ashley McBryde’s debut single, “A Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega,” came out in 2017, it made a lot of country fans think back to the previous time a first single had the kind of combination hookiness and hardscrabble detail that sat them bolt upright in their bucket seats. That last such example of a thoroughly lived-in-feeling freshman grabber of a song — for a lot of us, anyway — would have been Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ’Round,” which in 2012 marked the arrival of one of the genre’s major modern talents. That McBryde has her first album coming out the same day as Musgraves’ third is cause to remember and celebrate that, in country, it seems to be the women who arrive as fully formed individualists. (Theories about why the ladies are owning it will have to wait for another time — although baseball caps being laden with creativity-stifling toxins seems as good a conspiracy theory as any.)

Although Musgraves and McBryde happen to be arriving on the same street date, their releases aren’t really in competition, at least stylistically. That’s because Musgraves is pretty much reinventing her whole sound and lyrical approach with “Golden Hour,” as if she’d planned to cede the smart-girl-writes-about-small-town-life space to McBryde all along. She’s also ditched the kitschy throwback aspects of her look and the whimsicality of songs like “Biscuits” and “Follow Your Arrow” for a regionally unspecific record that might be more quickly identified as pop.

That’s not to say she’ll be pulling a Taylor Swift move and inviting Kendrick onto a record anytime soon; we’re talking a distinctly chill, finger-picky brand of pop. With the virtually all-ballad “Golden Hour,” Musgraves is shifting into a genre that might best be described as artful adult contemporary, where the acoustic guitars and banjos sound more canyon-y than twangy, and sit comfortably alongside lush synth touches and even the odd Vocoder effect. It’s a measure of how much of a departure it is that her label isn’t even attempting to work a single onto country radio.

On first listen, “Golden Hour” might be disappointing for a Musgraves fan who assumed that certain wry or retro traits were immutable. The humor and novelistic lyrics are initially missed, and the mood of the album is so subdued that it’s not until 11 songs into a 13-track collection that you get a “tempo” tune, in “High Horse” — and the tempo in question is vintage disco. But on second or third review, it feels like she’s making exactly the right move by painting herself out of a corner, as lovable as that corner was.

“Write what you know” has apparently led Musgraves to quit making both jokey and lonely material — with the exception here of the awesomely lonesome “Space Cowboy” — to come up with a shockingly romantic record that suggests a good measure of newlywed bliss. After we’d previously heard Musgraves apply her unaffectedly sweet voice to so many acerbic, dryly funny songs, it’s slightly startling to hear her spend almost an entire album using it to be … sweet.

The album is quietly sexy, too, living up to the first track’s promise of a “Slow Burn” (which she says is “good in a glass, good on green / Good when you’re putting your hands all over me”). Maybe she’ll get back someday to her vintage Loretta Lynn fetish, but damn if she isn’t just as appealing as a folky Sade.

Meanwhile, if you still require an unabashed, Southern-rooted, honest-to-gawd great country record on March 30, McBryde is here to make sure that jones is satiated. As much as we might compare her to Musgraves Mach 1, you can also think of her as the cross between Gretchen Wilson and Brandy Clark we didn’t realize we needed: a tatted-up rabble-rouser who’s the farthest thing from shy onstage and also not shy about name-checking Townes Van Zandt in a song. “Girl Going Nowhere,” her unprophetically titled debut, is rife with autobiographical detail, rowdiness and sensitivity. She can blast your windows out with anthemic passion — “American Scandal” makes her sound momentarily like country’s answer to Melissa Etheridge — and then surprise you with the earworm-iest tune you’ve ever heard about a deceased meth-dealer neighbor (“Livin’ Next to LeRoy”).

McBryde has never met an opening-act slot she couldn’t slay. But even thoroughly convinced country radio programmers are being a little sluggish about moving “Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega” up the chart where it belongs. (Maybe, when they do the callout research, they’ll just need to make sure that tongue-twister of a title is offered as a multiple-choice option and not a write-in.) Regardless of how it makes its way to No. 1 in country fans’ hearts, you’d be hard-pressed to think of a better paean to the transformative power of coming across music in the neon-lit wild as a cure for depression — or, as McBryde sings in her great run-on sentence of a chorus: “Man, it’s a hitting-rock-bottom, smoke-’em-if-you-got-’em, nothing’s-going-right, making-the-best-of-the-worst-day kind of night.” Even those closer to Dulles than Dahlonega may relate.

Album Review: Kacey Musgraves' 'Golden Hour' and Ashley McBryde's 'Girl Going Nowhere'

More Music

  • Dan the Automator

    Heeding the Call of Olivia Wilde, Dan the Automator Scores 'Booksmart'

    Dan The Automator, aka Daniel Nakamura, knows a thing or two about setting a mood. The Bay Area-based producer has worked on projects such as Gorillaz’s debut album, Handsome Boy Modeling School (with Prince Paul) and multiple projects with rapper Kool Keith. Now, Nakamura has set his sights on film scoring, and will make his [...]

  • Jagged Little Pill Broadway

    Hot Shows and Viral Campaigns Put a New Spin on Broadway Cast Albums

    Mixtapes, YouTube videos, dedicated playlists, ancillary products, viral marketing, epic chart stays. These are buzzwords you expect to hear from a record label discussing Cardi B or Beyoncé. Instead, this is the new world of a very old staple, the Broadway original-cast recording. Robust stats tell the tale: Atlantic’s “Hamilton” album beat the record held by Adele’s [...]

  • Santino Fontana Tootsie Broadway Illustration

    'Tootsie' Star Santino Fontana on the Challenges of His Tony-Nominated Dual Role

    Santino Fontana is doing double duty on Broadway this year. The “Tootsie” star scored his second Tony Award nomination this month for his hilarious portrayal of struggling actor Michael Dorsey and Dorothy Michaels, the female persona that Dorsey assumes to win a role in a play. The musical, based on the 1982 comedy starring Dustin [...]

  • Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’

    Kanye West Slams Liberals for ‘Bullying’ Trump Supporters in David Letterman Interview

    The Daily Beast today published a preview of David Letterman’s interview with Kanye West — which addresses music, fashion, West’s late mother and of course his much-criticized support of President Trump — on his Netflix show, which begins streaming next Friday, May 31. The article praises the hour-long session as “not only one of the [...]

  • Richard AshcroftThe Ivors, London, UK -

    Richard Ashcroft Talks About ‘Emotional’ Legal Battle Over ‘Bittersweet Symphony’

    On Thursday, nearly 22 years after the Verve’s “Bittersweet Symphony” was released, singer Richard Ashcroft announced that the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger and Keith Richards assigned to him the songwriter royalties and rights from the song, which samples one of their compositions, and removed their writing credits. The songwriting royalties and rights had been assigned [...]

  • Flying Lotus Flamagra

    Album Review: Flying Lotus’ ‘Flamagra’

    Veteran DJ/producer/artist/rapper Flying Lotus operates in a sort of netherworld between electronic, hip-hop, jazz and funk, without being particularly anchored in any earthly genre. He’s signed to the electronic label Warp, is the nephew of jazz great Alice Coltrane and the grandson of Marilyn MacLeod (cowriter of Diana Ross’ hit “Love Hangover”), and has worked [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content