Kacey Musgraves, Pistol Annies Prove Country Girls Rule 2013
Kacey Musgraves is sitting pretty at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart this week with Same Trailer, Different Park, an album earning raves for some of the most straight-forward, disarmingly honest lyrics country fans have heard in a long time. She also grabs the No. 2 spot on the Billboard 200, right behind Justin Timberlake's near-million-seller. No small feat for a debut album with one Top 10 single, "Merry Go 'Round." But even more significantly, Kacey is the first female solo country artist to top the chart in since 2011 who isn't Taylor Swift or Carrie Underwood -- and therefore doesn't fall into the pop-country trap that's a bone of contention for many fans (of both genres). The last unmistakably country album to top the chart for a solo female act was Miranda Lambert's Four the Record, which spent two weeks at the top.
Like her Texas-born gal pal Miranda, Kacey was a "Nashville Star" contestant (she finished seventh in 2007). But six years later, she isn't the only traditional-leaning country female making waves. Earlier in March, Ashley Monroe, whose voice has drawn favorable comparisons to Dolly Parton and Lee Ann Womack, debuted in the Top 10 with Like a Rose. Also helping to garner attention for her is the east Tennessee native's gift for vivid storytelling, whether tackling gentle songs of heartbreak and loss ("She's Driving Me Out of Your Mind") or sending up controversial topics such as adventurous sex and recreational drug use ("Weed Instead of Roses"). While her songs have captured the ear of music critics and fans, country radio airplay has, thus far, been elusive.
Ashley is also one-third of another critically-lauded country act, Pistol Annies, which includes mainstream country superstar Miranda along with singer-songwriter Angaleena Presley. The trio topped the country chart -- for a single week -- in 2011, with Hell on Heels, a collection that landed at or near the top of numerous year-end "best of" lists (including The Boot's, which it topped). Their follow-up, the spectacular Annie Up, will be released in May and, yes, it's most definitely a country record. But in terms of other things all three of these acts have in common, it's not just about how their albums sound, how they're produced, or even how the songs are sung. The appeal can be summed up in one word.
"Truth," Miranda tells The Boot. "Kacey writes about trailer parks, we write about trailer parks. Ashley sings about weed and roses. It's like, just lay it out and maybe people will like it. And people do. They feel like it's not a fantasy world."
"It's truth and it's courage," adds Angaleena. "There was a long time where there was a formula and people felt like they had to fit in that formula. Then, along came Miss 'Gunpowder and Lead' and it was like, 'I ain't gonna do no formula.' Thank God! She's a trailblazer. Now, there's Pistol Annies, Kacey Musgraves, Caitlin Rose, Brandi Carlile, Ashley Monroe ..."
For her part, Kacey says she refuses to censor herself as a writer, having co-written every song on her album. "I feel like that's kind of what country music is lacking," Kacey tells The Boot. "If we are wanting to progress and change as a genre, I don't think we should be scared of taboo subjects. Every other genre gets to sing about them; why can't we?"
Miranda also takes note of a recent hit, "Better Dig Two," by the Band Perry, which features Kimberly Perry along with brothers Neil and Reid, singing that "I told you on the day we wed, I's gonna love you 'til I'm dead."
"Wait a minute. I'm the only one that gets to kill people!" Miranda says, as she and her Pistol Annie cohorts all laugh. "What's goin' on here? But it's cool because it's just music now. It's not whatever the hit should be."
"I've been writing songs the way we write for 11 years and had been doing it for five years when I heard 'Gunpowder and Lead,'" notes Angaleena. "I was like, 'Well, thank God somebody else is telling the truth besides me.' Because I was just ready to go home. I had poured my heart into these songs and people were so afraid of them. I could not get in. Then [Miranda] heard the same songs I'm talking about and she said, 'Call her. She's in.'"
Thankfully, these trailblazing women are all in and their brand of truth, although it may not (yet) be spelling multi-platinum success or radio airplay, is catching fire, and staying true to country music traditions at its core -- fueled by a healthy, often explosive, dose of girl power that can't help but give their fellow artists (male and female) a run for their money. Like Kacey suggests, it may be the same old trailer but today it's a different park, indeed.
Watch Kacey Musgraves' 'Merry Go 'Round' Video