A fresh, spunky coun­try voice

Kacey Mus­graves has won fans by stay­ing true to her­self amid the bro ho­mo­gene­ity.

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - By Randy Lewis

Kacey Mus­graves has ev­ery rea­son to sound up­beat. In the span of a year, she’s sung at the Coun­try Mu­sic Awards with Loretta Lynn, recorded with Beach Boy Brian Wil­son and been a con­tender for a new artist Grammy.

But the 26- year- old isn’t look­ing back. She’s in­stead talk­ing about what comes next.

“Oh, man,” she said back­stage af­ter a show on the main stage of the Stage­coach Coun­try Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in April. “There are a lot of things to look for­ward to: new mu­sic, new cre­ative ideas.”

The Texas na­tive is at the fore­front of a crest­ing wave of fresh tal­ent — along with Sturgill Simp­son, Brandy Clark and Ash­ley Monroe — that’s in­ject­ing con­sid­er­able spunk into main­stream coun­try mu­sic at a time when it’s been stuck in a rut of bro- coun­try ho­mo­gene­ity.

Her sopho­more al­bum, “Pageant Ma­te­rial,” was re-

leased this week, and early re­sponse to the al­bum’s first sin­gle, “Bis­cuits,” has been en­thu­si­as­tic. All signs point to Mus­graves build­ing on the ca­reer mo­men­tum she es­tab­lished with her 2013 de­but, “Same Trailer Dif­fer­ent Park.”

That al­bum in many ways de­fied con­ven­tional wis­dom as it scored hon­ors from the Coun­try Mu­sic Assn. and the Academy of Coun­try Mu­sic and earned Mus­graves Gram­mys for coun­try al­bum and song for her break­through sin­gle “Merry Go ’ Round,” which cham­pi­oned open- minded- ness and in­clu­siv­ity rather than po­lar­iz­ing sen­ti­ments of­ten as­so­ci­ated with coun­try mu­sic.

“The thing that I’m the most proud of is get­ting to lit­er­ally say what I want to say and cre­ate the things that I want to cre­ate, be­cause a lot of times that doesn’t hap­pen,” the singer and song­writer said in­side an artist trailer back­stage at Stage­coach. She’d changed from the red, white and blue bikini top, fringed white miniskirt and light- up cow­girl boots she’d worn on­stage into a more comfy ensem­ble of soft blue denim jeans and a “Dia De Los Ta- males” T- shirt from one of the fes­ti­val’s food ven­dors.

“I feel like peo­ple might start off paint­ing them­selves one way to fol­low a trend and then they’re stuck do­ing that.

“I’m just re­ally lucky in that I’ve found peo­ple right from the be­gin­ning who were in my cor­ner, and I’m like, ‘ Look, this is what I want to do,’ and I’ve never had to com­pro­mise that.”

That at­ti­tude has man­i­fested as one of the fresh­est ar­rivals in coun­try mu­sic of the new mil­len­nium, as Mus­graves has staked out ter­ri­tory as an artist will­ing to chal­lenge pre­vail­ing think­ing in Mu­sic City.

She ex­tends her staytrue- to- your­self mantra in the new al­bum’s ti­tle track, which she wrote with fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors Luke Laird and Shane McA­nally. The song re­vis­its an in­ci­dent from her child­hood when she was be­ing groomed as a con­tes­tant in a beauty pageant, only to re­al­ize that the whole process made her feel out of place: “I’ve tried to fake it but I can’t/ I’d rather lose for what I am/ Than win for what I ain’t.”

That touches the heart of the the­matic ter­ri­tory Mus­graves has es­tab­lished, one that con­tains con­sid­er­able em­pa­thy for so­ci­ety’s out­siders.

“Em­pa­thy?” she asked, sound­ing sur­prised at the sug­ges­tion and added with a lit­tle laugh, “I didn’t know I had so much.

“I think a lot of it came from mov­ing away from home and be­ing ex­posed to a mil­lion dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple and be­liefs,” she said, ref­er­enc­ing a move from Mi­ne­ola, Texas, to Austin when she turned 18. “It re­ally changed me. I feel like where I come from, you can easily get a very one- sided opin­ion of things, and it re­ally broad­ened my ideas of peo­ple and how things worked.

“When I moved away, I started writ­ing a lot too. I re­ally was inspired by that big Nashville song­writ­ing com­mu­nity, how strong they were, and how sup­port­ive. It re­ally inspired me and made me a bet­ter writer.” Mov­ing to Nashville

Mus­graves moved to Nashville from Austin in 2008, and although the col­lab­o­ra­tive na­ture of song­writ­ing in Mu­sic City can re­sult in a generic, writ­ten-by-com­mit­tee sound, she f inds that the re­sults add fresh ideas to her vo­cab­u­lary.

“I think some of my best work is with other peo­ple, which is in­ter­est­ing, be­cause you don’t see many paint­ings where a pain­ter starts it and then hands it to some­one else to f in­ish,” she said. “So mu­sic is dif­fer­ent in that way. But I re­ally en­joy bring­ing an idea I’ve started to some­one else, and their brain may take it to a place, take it in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion that I would never think about.”

Mus­graves, who pro­duced the al­bum with Laird and McA­nally, is also try­ing to go in new di­rec­tions mu­si­cally.

There’s less of the rock­band- with- a- twang sound that char­ac­ter­izes much of Nashville to­day, more el­e­gant steel guitar and spare acous­tic in­stru­men­ta­tion, con­tribut­ing to an over­all tone of sweet­ness. ‘ Why not?’

“Pageant Ma­te­rial” in­cor­po­rates a num­ber of touches — who whis­tles on a coun­try record nowa­days? — that more con­ven­tion-con­scious mu­si­cians or record ex­ec­u­tives might re­ject. But for Mus­graves, “My an­swer is, why not? If it feels good, it’s right.”

That’s part of a mu­si­cal mind- set that’s won her fans be­yond the main­stream coun­try com­mu­nity.

Pop princess Katy Perry helped get the ball rolling for Mus­graves when she tweeted her en­thu­si­asm about “Merry Go ’ Round” in 2012.

Beach Boys cre­ative leader Wil­son in­vited her not only to har­mo­nize with him on his latest stu­dio al­bum but also to cowrite the song “Guess You Had to Be There,” which they sang to­gether as well. Vet­eran coun­try- Amer­i­cana mu­sic mav­er­ick Steve Earle calls her “the real thing — she can write.”

It’s been a wild ride for Mus­graves. “Singing with Loretta Lynn on the CMA Awards, the duet with her, was ab­so­lutely un­real,” she said.

“She’s the woman in coun­try that kind of said it all. Get­ting to tour with Wil­lie Nel­son and Ali­son Krauss, that was big one.”

And all this has come be­fore she’s even re­leased her sec­ond al­bum.

“It’s funny, it can seem like you come out of left field for peo­ple, but it’s some­thing I’ve been work­ing to­ward for so long,” she said. “But it’s OK — a slow build is OK for me. I feel like I’m re­ally fall­ing into know­ing what I want to sound like, what I want to say. I feel like that just gets eas­ier with time. So I’m not im­pa­tient about any­thing.

“I’m hav­ing fun along the way, try­ing to keep my san­ity and just have fun — to be present for ev­ery minute of this.” randy. lewis@ latimes. com Twit­ter: @ RandyLewis2

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

KACEY MUS­GRAVES’ phi­los­o­phy is ‘ If it feels good, it’s right.’ Her al­bum “Pageant Ma­te­rial” is now out.

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