Excluding the disco-anthem “High Horse,” the songs on this album all fall in a similar sound of “spacey country,” with definite roots in folk and pop music. If you subtract the acoustic production and the banjo thrown in there ever so often, a majority of these songs are pop songs at their core. But that’s the beauty of great country-pop songs: they’re catchy like a pop song, but meaningful like a country song.
Despite all the talk about the sound of the record being drastically different, the lyrical content is really the major shift. Musgraves built her career off of quirky, do-what-you-want songs like “Follow Your Arrow” and sad, mournful tracks about life like “Merry Go Round.” Golden Hour is a happy album, a first for Musgraves. Much of that is likely inspired by her personal life, as she got married to fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly last year. The new sound is not there to cause up a stir, but there to match with the new lyrics she’s writing. Happy lyrics matched with a more upbeat, poppier production just makes more sense, sonically.
She has a new appreciation for the beauty of life and love. “Oh, what a world, and then there is you” she sings with wonder on the fourth track of the album. “Butterflies” embraces the beauty of new love, and “Golden Hour” feels like a first dance song at a wedding. “Rainbow” has become an ode to LGBTQ+ youth, encouraging them to remember that despite struggles they may face, they are worth it. Again, a topic that hasn’t been addressed in the form of country music that often, but Musgraves is bringing country music into a greater scene, showing other singers that it is important to stand up for what you believe in.
There are a couple questions that come with this record that is as influenced by pop music as country music. Will Musgraves release a pop single? Is “High Horse” a one-off or the beginning of a new path for her? Musgraves staunch commitment to her sound, despite limited radio support has made her an underground favorite over the last six years. Have traditionalists lost their golden girl? But if you set aside the chatter and listen to the music, you’ll find a masterpiece of a record.
Best tracks: “Slow Burn,” “Lonely Weekend,” “Rainbow”
Throwaway tracks: “High Horse”
Overall rating: 4 ½ crowns