By Eleni P. Austin

“I used to wake and bake, roll out of bed, hit the gravity bong that I’d made, and start the day, for a while it got me by, everything I did seemed better when I was high, I don’t know why.” That’s Kacey Musgraves, navigating life with the assistance of a little herbal refreshment, on the title cut of her new album, Deeper Well.

Kacey wrote her first song when she was just nine years old. It was called “Notice Me.” By the time the Golden, Texas native was attending middle school, she had learned to play mandolin, guitar and harmonica. She was still a pre-teen when she formed Texas Two-Bits with Alina Tatum. The Country duo was invited to perform at George W. Bush’s Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball. After winning myriad yodeling contests, she was selected to sing the National Anthem at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

At 14, her parents financed her self-released debut album, four years later, she left Golden and moved to Austin. She appeared on the Country Music competition show, Nashville Star, and came in seventh. To make ends meet, she would perform as Hannah Montana at kids’ birthday parties. Two more self-released albums followed in 2003 and 2007.


She made her bones as a songwriter, writing hits for the TV series Nashville. She also co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s big hit, “Mama’s Broken Heart.” Pretty soon, the music industry took notice. In 2012 she was invited to join Lady A. on the European leg of their tour and signed with Mercury Nashville. Her major label debut, Same Trailer, Different Park arrived in 2013. Critically acclaimed, it was also a commercial juggernaut, debuting at #2 on the Billboard Top 200. Nominated for four Grammy Awards, she won for Best Country Album. A bit of a rebel, she radiated cool, as a LGBTQ-inclusive feminist, who smoked pot, famously wrote a song on L.S.D., and managed diversify Country, ruffling a few feathers along the way.

Two years later, she released Pageant Material, and followed up in 2016 with A Very Kacey Christmas, which featured a mix of traditional and original Yuletide songs. It was her fourth long-player, 2018’s Golden Hour, that was her true crossover hit. Straying a bit from the traditional Country paradigm, she incorporated traces of Electropop, Disco, Electronica and Yacht Rock. The surfeit of styles was no big surprise, Kacey’s earliest inspirations included John Prine, Alison Krauss and Lee Ann Womack. As time went by, the list grew to include disparate influences like Glen Campbell, E.L.O., Bobbie Gentry, Sade, Roger Miller, Cake, Charley Pride, Selena, Julie Miller, The Bee Gees, Cher, Loretta Lynn, Jim Croce, Marty Robbins, Weezer and Dolly Parton. Golden Hour went on to win the Album Of The Year at the 61st Grammy Awards. She filmed a Holiday special for Amazon Prime, but at the same time, her marriage to fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly was coming apart at the seams.

Her next record, Star-Crossed, reflected the heartbreak and healing following their divorce. Shakespearian in scope, it was another #1 debut, weaving elements of Dance, Psychedelia and Folk into her trademark Country Pop tapestry. (Ironically, it wasn’t Country enough to be eligible for that Grammy category, but Kacey and Zach Bryan still walked away with a statuette in February for Best Duo/Group Performance for their smash hit, “I Remember Everything”). Between collaborations with Troye Sivan, Flaming Lips and Noah Kahan, she found time to executive produce the music competition show My Kind Of Country with her pal, actress Reese Witherspoon. Now, she’s returned with her sixth long-player, Deeper Well.

The opening three tracks set mood for this 14-song set. “Cardinal” is powered, rather appropriately, by Byrdsy, jingle-jangle guitars, clave, percussion, whooshy synths, buoyant bass and a propulsive beat. Kacey’s shivery vocals wrap around lyrics that look for signs from above the astral plane: “I saw a sign, or an omen on the branches in the morning, it was right after I lost a friend without warning, words unsaid, scarlet red, Cardinal, are you bringing me a message from the other side? Cardinal, are you telling me I’m on somebody’s mind? Don’t leave me behind.” A spiraling guitar solo ping-pong’s through the break, before the whole arrangement shapeshifts, locking into a an ethereal roundelay, as she repeats, like a mantra, “Are you just watching and waiting to spring, or do you have some kind of magic to bring?”

On the aforementioned “Deeper Well,” braided acoustic guitars are matched by splashes of synth, fluid, walk-on-the-wild-side bass lines and a chugging rhythm. Gimlet-eyed lyrics find Kacey jettisoning dead weight and holding on to what matters: “Took a long time, but I learned there’s two kinds of people, one is a giver and one’s always trying to take what they can take/So, I’m saying goodbye to people that I feel are real good at wasting my time, no regrets baby, I just think maybe you go your way and I’ll go mine, it’s been a real good time, but you’ve got a dark energy, something I can’t unsee, and I’ve got to take care of myself, I’ve found a deeper well.” In the midst of the least-bitter kiss off ever, epiphanies abound.

The frisson of new romance plays out across “Too Good To Be True,” Rippling guitars embroider the opening verse, which is equal parts playful and wary: “Made some breakfast, made some love, this is what dreams are made of, on a cloudy Monday morning, Summer’s gone and you’re still here, for both of us it’s been a year, a tidal wave without warning.” A plunky beat and sylvan keys make room for some lonesome pedal steel as she she offers this plea: “Please don’t make me regret opening up that part of myself, and I’ve been scared to give again, be good to me and I’ll be good to you, but please don’t be too good to be true.”

In a recent interview, Kacey characterized the theme of this album as “ruthlessly removing resistance to growth.” Naturally, a couple of tracks, “Moving Out” and “Giver/Taker” expand on that leitmotif. The former, really nails a ‘70s Soft-Rock sound, sweeping acoustic chord clusters share some musical DNA with America’s “Tin Man.” But she is most definitely saying goodbye to “Oz.” Filigreed Mellotron notes lattice soaring slide guitar, thrumming bass and a hint of banjo. Lyrics catalogue the relationship’s highs and lows: “A couple of big fights that we had, I cried, but it was hard to stay mad, we had good times, can’t deny it, and even though I feel excited, I’m kind of sad to leave it, now that we’re moving out, we’re moving out.” Bramble-thick banjo uncoils at the finish line, adding to the wistful ache.

The latter is a bare-bones ballad accented by rustic acoustic guitars, shimmery keys, mournful slide guitar, pliant bass and a kick-drum beat. Her tender croon envelopes lyrics that cut to the chase: “Sunrise and you’re lying next to me, wrap me in your arms like I’m made of glass, I need all your love, not just one piece, hoping that it ain’t too much to ask….don’t wanna share, I want it all, all of the time, tell me now you feel the same and that you’re mine, baby.” The languid arrangement cradles her honest intentions.

Kacey’s Country bona fides were established decades ago. So, it felt wildly apropos that her last two records strayed from a tried-and-true Honky-Tonk sound, salting the mix with an array of disparate styles. That exploration continues here. The best songs on the album could sandwich nicely on a a playlist that includes Phoebe Bridgers, Laura Marling, Courtney Barnett and Frou Frou (remember Frou Frou?).

Take “The Architect,” which is a tentative ode to a higher power. Guitar and banjo intertwine, darting between feathery piano notes in ¾ time. Clever lyrics marvel at the miracle of a Golden Delicious: “Even something as small as an apple, it’s simple but somehow complex, sweet and divine, the perfect design, can I speak to the architect?” Cascading banjo riffs coalesce with winsome harmonies on the break. Nevertheless, some knowledge is simply intangible: “Does it happen by chance, is it all happenstance, do we have any say in this mess? Is it too late, to make more space, can I speak to the architect/This life that we make, is it random or fate, can I speak to the architect, is there an architect?”

Then there’s “Sway.” Sun-dappled guitars, Moog bass, lowing synths and flinty percussion are tethered to a galloping gait. Kacey’s willowy vocals wash over lyrics that attempt to roll with the punches: “Most of the time, all the thoughts in my mind keep me running, show me a place where I can just think of nothing… maybe one day, I’ll learn how to sway, like a palm tree in the wind, I won’t break, I’ll just bend, and I’ll sway.” Partnering with singer-songwriter Sarah Buxton on the coda, their honeyed harmonies reach an ecclesiastic plateau that recalls The Beach Boys at their most celestial.

“Heart Of The Woods” finds Kacey at one with nature. Chunky 12-string guitar riffs ring and chime, sprinting across pastoral keys, sturdy bass and a clutch of acoustic and electric guitars, are wed to a sweet shuffling beat. She insists “It’s in our nature, to look out for each other, in the heart of the woods, when there is danger, we look out for each other, in the heart of the woods.”

Much like “Sway,” “Dinner With Friends” echoes a ‘60s antecedent, leaning toward the Baroque Folk that Simon & Garfunkel perfected. Sparkly piano brushes up against strummy acoustic riffs, breezy ukulele, barbed slide guitar, vroom-y bass and a barely there beat. To paraphrase the great Soul-philosopher, William DeVaughan, Kacey’s clearly thankful for what she’s got and wise enough to prize the ephemeral pleasures: “Intimate convos that go way into the night, the way that the sun on my floor makes a pattern of light, and early in June when the fireflies first start to glow, it never gets old.” She also offers a bit of a progressive dig: “My home state of Texas, the sky there and horses and dogs, but none of their laws.” The arrangement quietly meanders until she arrives at the heart of the matter: “The shape of his heart, my shoes by his door, he loves me in all of the ways that I’ve never felt love before, things I would miss from the other side…” Superstar side-man Greg Leisz uncoils a stratospheric steel guitar solo to close out the track.

Other interesting songs include the verdant dreamscape of “Jade Green” and the ophthalmic “Anime Eyes.” “Lonely Millionaire” and “Heaven Is” are different sides of the same coin. “Lonely….” is gauzily Soulful built around the hooky chorus: “Who wants to be a lonely millionaire, coming home, ain’t no one there, that you can talk to in your king-size bed, be careful what you wish for, I see it all the time, the money and the things that shine can’t buy you true happiness.” Meanwhile, the courtly “Heaven Is” revels in the simple pleasures: “I don’t care for money or fame, all for you, I’d give it away, the way you call my name, that’s what heaven is.” The album closes with the reassuring “Nothing To Be Scared Of.”

Most of this record was co-written with longtime collaborators Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, as well as Shane MacAnally and Tommy English. They also played on pretty much every track. Looking for a change of scene, the album was recorded at what was once Jimi Hendrix’s home base, Electric Lady Recording studio in New York City.

After a decade-long winning streak, Kacey wouldn’t be faulted for resting on her laurels. It’s to her credit that she continues to defy expectations, willfully following her muse and sharing her truth. Deeper Well feels authentic and lived-in, exhibited gossamer grit and grace. As she continues to challenge herself, she challenges us too.