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Kacey Musgraves’ “Deeper Well” floats along the surface

This new album expounds upon the healing power of nature and love in quiet folk-pop that rarely goes deeper than shallow water

<p>Title track “Deeper Well” acts as a sort of thesis statement for the album as a whole, encapsulating the parallel themes of nature and self-growth found throughout the rest of the work.</p>

Title track “Deeper Well” acts as a sort of thesis statement for the album as a whole, encapsulating the parallel themes of nature and self-growth found throughout the rest of the work.

Kacey Musgraves is getting back to basics. With “Deeper Well,” her sixth studio album, the Texas-born artist delivers a cohesive, quiet portrait of a woman looking at the world through fresh eyes as she makes space for what is truly important. Abounding in acoustic guitar, the 14 new tracks weave together earthy imagery and anecdotal phrases guaranteed to imbue listeners with a sense of peace, even if the lyrics sometimes fail to live up to their songs’ possibilities. 

“Deeper Well” pivots away from several of the country star’s trademarks with which longtime fans are familiar. For instance, she rose to prominence in 2013 with “Follow Your Arrow.” The single shocked mainstream country fans with its calls to “love who you love” and “kiss lots of girls, if that’s something you’re into” and led people to consider her a witty, provocative lyricist. And despite her Texan roots, 2018’s “Golden Hour” — which won Album of the Year at the Grammys — and 2021’s “star-crossed” dealt as much in sweeping, disco-infused pop as in finger-picking, a style of guitar playing often seen in country music. With these projects, Musgraves cemented herself as an uncategorizable artist. 

“Deeper Well” sees her taking another turn to offer up a folk-pop record more reminiscent of Taylor Swift’s “folklore” or Clairo’s “Sling.”  The record doesn’t strive for any majorly experimental production choices, and that might be because Musgraves worked with longtime collaborators, producers and writers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. 

The key instruments across the album are the acoustic guitar — very characteristic of country & folk music — and drum beats that propel the songs forward at soothing, consistent paces. Lyrically, Musgraves’ affinity for the natural world often comes through in unique metaphors which she uses as starting points to construct songs around. 

The album’s opener, “Cardinal,” is one of the record’s few upbeat tracks. Its lyrics detail a walk through the city in which the spotting of a red cardinal is cause to wonder if the bird is “bringing me a message from the other side,” for she recently “lost a friend without warning.” The somber lyrics juxtaposed with a quick opening guitar riff lend the song an eerie, Fleetwood Mac-esque feeling that folk music listeners will surely enjoy. 

Later on in the album, “Sway” conveys Musgraves’ desire to learn how to become more flexible in the face of change, “like a palm tree in the wind.” Her soft, smooth soprano vocals rise as she holds out the word “sway” on the choruses, conjuring up allusions to the ebb and flow of a breeze. The production underscores the simple lyrics perfectly. The last thirty seconds cut the instrumentals to instead have overlapping layers of hums and harmonies that make for a standout track.

Another production standby is the common use of voice-altering effects that lend certain songs that extra murky, mystical quality. On “Giver/Taker” — a subtly complex song where Musgraves both yearns for all of her partner’s attention, yet acknowledges how that might be a harmful instinct — another voice joins in during the chorus to add harmony. The extra voice is subtle enough that it’s hard to distinguish whether it’s the work of a harmonizer tool or real backing vocals, but it elevates the song by alluding to the presence of another person. 

Despite these elements in the album’s production, Musgraves’s newfound gratitude often turns generic. One such example is “Dinner With Friends.” The song offers a unique premise. Musgraves contrasts verses listing warmhearted elements of the human experience, like “intimate convos that go way into the night,” with the qualities of her romantic partner. 

The music darkens and deepens as the song progresses to reveal that she’s considering the “things I would miss from the other side.” However, that’s the only phrase she uses to establish the reason for this list. As a result, the track feels more like a loose association of words in a journal than a fully fleshed out song.

The following track “Heart of the Woods,” is similarly basic. With a refrain of “it’s in our nature to look out for each other in the heart of the woods,” the sentiment reads like a line from “Winnie the Pooh.” When considered next to “Golden Hour’s” “Oh, What A World” — a sweeping psychedelic exploration that names specific aspects of the environment — it’s hard not to feel as though Musgraves isn’t living up to her lyrical potential. Nonetheless, Musgraves’ clear voice is still soothing to hear. 

The song which most encapsulates these parallel refrains of nature and self-growth is the title track “Deeper Well.” Here, Musgraves sings simply about how her Saturn return has caused her to mature beyond the people she feels are “real good at wasting my time.” The Saturn return is an astrological phenomenon stating that we truly come of age once Saturn returns to the position it was in at the time of our birth, around 27-30 years later. 

It’s an aptly unrealistic metaphor for an album that sometimes treats self-growth as a pretty, romanticized notion, rather than a difficult and gritty practice. Even still, Musgraves exudes an alluringly innate confidence in herself and her beliefs. As she sings calmly over quiet, quickly strummed, guitar, this incalculable confidence elevates the track into a genuine expression of rebirth. 

“Deeper Well"  is a calmer, less bombastic companion to “Golden Hour.” While the songs are sometimes underwhelming in their simplistic grammatical structures, the overall feeling of renewal is a strong, fully realized artistic statement. Additionally, the release time could not be more perfect as winter turns to spring, indicating that Musgraves knows that as the seasons change, so do we. Maybe it’s simple, but there’s no truth more natural than that. 

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