Single Review: Kacey Musgraves, “Blowin’ Smoke”

Kacey Musgraves Blowin' SmokeOne of my longest running criticisms of contemporary country music is the disappearance of the working poor.  It’s a segment of the population that has been growing exponentially, but the genre that has historically been associated with chronicling their experiences has instead chosen to lionize and romanticize small town partying and country living.   Lots of songs about Sunday mornings and Saturday nights, but almost none about those tiring days in between.

This necessary documentation has found some mainstream success through Kacey Musgraves, who has a keen writer’s eye for capturing the specific realities of the daily existence of working class folks.  “Blowin’ Smoke” is one of the most effective examples of her talent in this area, crafting an entire song around a smoke break for exhausted waitresses with limited options and dwindling hope for the future.   They talk a big game about getting away someday, but they know that opportunities are as impossible to grab as  the smoke departing from their cigarettes.

Unfortunately, the monotony of their experiences is replicated a bit too faithfully in the song’s production and melody, which both plod along without any sign of a hook.   I get that they were trying to be faithful to the theme of the song, but if Musgraves is going to become the modern day Merle Haggard that we need, she must keep in mind that as vivid as Hag’s classic songs were in their depiction of the struggling underclass, they were also quite catchy and had memorable vocals and guitar work, too.

Written by Luke Laird, Shane McAnally, and Kacey Musgraves

Grade: B

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Single Review: Kacey Musgraves, “Blowin’ Smoke”

  1. johnNo Gravatar

    Though I really enjoyed her album, I was quite surprised when I heard that this was going to be her 2nd single, Not bad… but there were better options

  2. She wanted “Follow Your Arrow” as single #2 because Musgraves felt it was what the narrator from “Merry Go ‘Round” would say next. Mercury balked and chose “Blowin’ Smoke” as a safer alternative.

    Ronnie Dunn brilliantly captured the plight of the working poor on “Cost of Livin,’” but mainstream examples have become harder and harder to come by. How I long for a return to songs like “40 Hour Week (For A Livin’)” and “Cafe On The Corner.” I love the songwriting of Shane McAnally, but we need more Mac McAnally, too.

    I do enjoy “Blowin’ Smoke” for what it is. I love the play on words with the idea of literally blowing smoke from a cigarette and the metaphorical idea of talking up a good game, without execution. The song is a tad rudimentary but she nails the characters.

  3. TomNo Gravatar

    …i’m still almost speechless – and how often would that happen – about the music that kacey musgraves, the pistol annies, miranda lambert and the grotesquely underrated ashley monroe are delivering this year – simply wonderful.

    for more melody, i usually go to kacey musgraves’ “the trailer song” – a gem, which ever way you look at it, with a beautiful steel set. her tunes are wonderful snapshots that are so gripping that the sometimes melodic monotony almost add to their extraordinary character. so far, it works for me with and without poignant hooks and “beautiful” melodies. only when i listen to ashley monroe’s or the pistol annies’ new albums, i start missing some of the trimmings in kacey musgraves work a little. but only then.

  4. bobNo Gravatar

    I’d have to agree with Kevin’s analysis. I read the lyrics first then listened to the song. When a song lacks a good melody and hook, reading may be the better experience. The musical experience here did not grab my attention in any way. She made her point with the lyrics. Now I’ll move on to something else. There was no urge to play the song again.

  5. Erin SNo Gravatar

    Great review by Kevin, though I would’ve upgraded that B to a B+ myself.

    I recently read an interview with Kacey where she said she liked the idea of contrasting lyrics with melody so I don’t know if she was aiming for a parallel between the monotony of the working class experience and the music. Here’s the quote:

    “There’s just something about having something that sounds timeless up against something that doesn’t — where a lyric that’s really in your face has music that’s not, you know?”

    link

    I don’t find that Kacey’s album has a lot of great hooks outside of “Follow Your Arrow” but I’m still listening to it about as much as I was listening to it when it came out in March.

  6. VickiNo Gravatar

    I heard they are pulling “Blowin’ Smoke”, due to no action on the charts and I think you hit it right on the head about not having a “hook”. I loved her singing this song live, but the video made me want to get an air freshener. But rumor has it her next one is “Silver Lining” which I quite enjoy.

  7. This song would probably be a B+ in my book, or maybe even an A-. I personally like the arrangement and melody on “Blowin’ Smoke,” but I agree with the underlying points with regard to the importance of hooks and melodies. Haggard is a perfect example to cite.

  8. Tara SeetharamNo Gravatar

    Agree with Ben. Interestingly, it was the lack of dynamics in “Merry Go Round” that kept me from loving it. I hear more of a hook in this. Then again, maybe it’s just more up my alley.

  9. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I largely agree with the review. I like the song but don’t think it rises to the level of a B+.

    Trying to Haggard’s shoes is a daunting task – it’s been 24 years since he had a top ten hit, yet if you go to an acoustic jam you’ll hear Hagg’s songs played by country ,folk and bluegrass acts alike

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