Album Review: Kacey Musgraves, Pageant Material

Kacey Musgraves
Pageant Material


It isn’t easy to follow up a universally praised debut album, especially when you don’t have the novelty of the new in your corner.  Sometimes what sounds so fresh is just by the virtue of being the first time your voice has been heard. The second time around, you can only rely on the strength of your material. Being different is no longer enough.

Thankfully, Kacey Musgraves follows up her universally praised debut album with a sophomore effort that is superior in every way. The songwriting is both more personal and more universal, her vocal performances are more nuanced, and the production more creative and varied.

The best tracks find her looking outward at small town life and turning inward at the same time, acknowledging that she is a product of her own environment. “Dime Store Cowgirl” and the title track are the best of the autobiographical numbers, and together they tell the tale of where she came from and how it made her who she is, but also why she had to leave.  “Pageant Material” pushes back against the patriarchy of southern life, but subtly celebrates it, too, as if she’s saying, “Hey, this isn’t for me, but more power to you.”

She saves the real knives for the patriarchy of the music business, as highlight “Good Ol’ Boys Club” absolutely shreds Music Row’s refusal to be about how good you are, rather than who you know. She similarly tears down an always down friend on “Miserable,” where she refuses to be company to someone who only loves misery.

But the barbs here are limited, and they usually only come out when she’s in protective mode for herself or for others.  One of the best tracks is “This Town,” which celebrates a little town becoming bigger, but reminds that, “as big as we’re getting, this town’s too small to be mean” because “around here, we all look out for each other.”

There are some nice romantic tunes, like “Late to the Party,” but I find her work most interesting when she’s talking about the bigger picture. “Family is Family” is the best celebration of family I’ve heard in a long time, reveling in dysfunction because they’re the only ones you can really count on in the end, anyway.  And while at first I found it too derivative of “Follow Your Arrow,” I’ve come to love “Cup of Tea,” which simply states that you can’t be everyone’s favorite, because some like the bitter and some the sweet.

There is some filler here and there, but even the lesser tracks are hard to be too critical of, because they’re still well-written and performed. They just don’t shine as brightly as the others.  Maybe they’re just not my cup of tea.

But as a whole, Pageant Material is a solid sophomore collection that fulfills the promise of her debut album, which I liked well enough, but not nearly as much as this one.

Recommended Tracks: “Cup of Tea,” “Family is Family,” “This Town,” “Good Ol’ Boys Club”


  1. Eh, I never got the Musgraves appeal and I have always found her to be a bit hypocritical. As another commenter once posted, she does plenty of judging on people whose arrows fly in a different direction than her.

    “Family is Family” is at best a derivative take on “Sinners Like Me” or at worst, a copy of “Long Line of Losers.”

    She is a decent singer, but I think the hype and hoopla from radio not supporting her has molded her reputation into a musical martyr.

  2. I agree! This is a very good album. I liked her first album a lot and it even grew on me more as I heard it a few more times. I suspect the same will happen with this album. No sophomore slump here!

  3. Considering that her message is “don’t be shitty to people just because they’re different from you,” I don’t think it’s hypocritical to call out people who are shitty to those different than them.

    Refusal to tolerate intolerance is the cornerstone of a tolerant society.

  4. I’m definitely neutral on this album– I love the overall production aesthetic and how it’s so well-matched to the content of her songs, and I still think the best aspect of her songwriting is her command of melody. Her writing still skews too self-consciously clever (or “clever”) for my tastes, but I’m optimistic that she will realize that repeating yourself isn’t the same thing as having a point-of-view.

    My primary takeaway from the album, though, is how much I love her singing voice. She may not have the widest range or the most power, but her timbre is just so pretty. She isn’t in the same league, but I love her voice for many of the same qualities I love about Suzy Bogguss.

  5. I really liked this album more than the last one. I love how she sounds on this. “Dime Store Cowgirl” is a stunner. I think that what she represents is a moment in country music and in pop culture where the edges of the alternative country scene are about to become very mainstream. This is a very cool moment when people like Musgraves and Jason Isbell are popular, yet country radio is still unsure of what to do with them. They probably offend certain demographics, yet they are getting all the cool buzz.

    I think that Kacey is very much like Tom T. Hall with her more clever songs. There is something distinctly 1970’s to her work, which I love.

    I think that we are on the verge of a major shift in country music. It’s like that moment when with rock music, REM and Nirvana were on the fringe, then were suddenly being played all over the radio.
    (Let’s face it, the hipster look of today has guys looking like members of the Flying Burrito Brothers).
    Not to get too off-topic from this review, but:
    I also think that Kasey is going to win CMA Female Vocalist this year. I think that the nominations for Chris Stapleton are an indicator of where the CMA thinking is at right now. I think Kasey is going to win that, and I think that they are going to give Miranda Entertainer…

  6. “I think that Kacey is very much like Tom T. Hall with her more clever songs”

    I don’t even think that’s possible and not fair to Kacey. TTH was one of a kind with the rare ability to make a song out of any topic. Kacey Musgraves is very good and should be appreciated for what she has produced already – this is her fifth solo album

  7. I loved her first album and I love this album thus far. It gets automatic praise from the get-go for calling itself a country album and actually delivering with something that sounds discernibly country.

  8. I saw her in concert this past Sunday 10/11 for the second time. She was so good! During DSC she stopped in the middle to tell us her record label isn’t pushing it anymore because nobody wants to hear it :( it so sad that such a relented artist can’t get ground at radio.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.