Kacey Musgraves' ‘Deeper Well’ balances country-pop choruses with folk-y meditation

Just over a decade ago, Kacey Musgraves emerged as a new voice in country music, a mid-tempo storyteller with great acumen in her lyrics and musicianship, understanding when to use the harmonica, whistle, or vocoder.

In the years and award-winning albums since, she's shown herself to be malleable, weaving disco-pop into her narratives (most notably on “High Horse” from 2018's “Golden Hour,” the love-forward release that earned her album of the year at the 2019 Grammys), recording in Spanish (“Gracias a la Vida” from 2021's divorce record, “star-crossed”), and most recently, recording a feature with Zach Bryan, which has become her first No. “Deeper Well,” a subdued folk record with warm profundity, was released in 2024.

The '60s folk-inspired “Cardinal” opens the album with acoustic guitars and Musgraves' crystalline vocals telling open-hearted stories like “Nothing to be Scared Of” does. The album mostly follows the format, although with many surprises. For capital-C country via Musgraves' matured folk filter, skip to “The Architect,” a superb acoustic meditation on a greater force. «Can I pray it away?» I wonder as I look in the mirror. Can I be molded? Is this the best? she wonders.

Musgraves depicts a “Miyazaki sky” and sings through a trippy detour on “Anime Eyes.” “Lonely Millionaire” is a stunning near-reimagination of Atlanta rapper JID’s “Kody Blu 31.” The song is a weeper, he wrote it, and she does not rap.

From her 2013 debut album “Same Trailer Different Park,” Musgraves' jubilant country-as-heck LGBT+ anthem “Follow Your Arrow” evolved into “Deeper Well.

The spirit is the same: Musgraves has long pushed the boundaries of her formative genre, whether touring with Willie Nelson and Katy Perry or making sure her co-writers Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally took the stage when she won the 2014 Country Music Awards Song of the Year Award for her first hit. It was the first time two openly gay people stood on the CMA stage. Her choice to shift her needle softer feels right.

Like the fingerpicking title track “Deeper Well,” that might mean hyper-specific language of the moment. She sings, “My Saturn has returned/when I turned 27,” referencing Ariana Grande's latest album, “eternal sunshine.” 

“Everything changed/Took a long time, but I learned.” Another line, “You’ve got dark energy,” seems more like a text message than a lyric and risks dating itself the instant the listener hears it, but it may be a tool. Musgraves is engaged in existential bloodletting, exposing her thoughts about love and death in charming, beautiful songs.

Musgraves sings about the things she loves and will miss “from the other side” of life on piano and acoustic guitar in “Dinner with Friends,” her tearful response to “The Sound of Music” classic “My Favorite Things.”

“My home state of Texas/The sky there, the horses and dogs,” she sings, “Intimate convos that go way into the night/The way that sun on my floor makes a pattern of light.” Overall, “Deeper Well” is a soft-pedaled record that honors her humanity. Perhaps the finest change of pace is one with some familiarity.

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