Kacey Musgraves “Deeper Well” review: a wellness lifestyle album that isn’t Goop-core

Feel free to wince a little upon hearing that Kacey Musgraves is now singing about the holistic benefits of moon bathing and jade bracelets, but please know that unlike other recent pop albums that dabble in wellness woo-woo — Lorde’s “Solar Power,” FKA twigs’s “Caprisongs” — the singer’s new record, “Deeper Well,” totally gets away with it. Why? Because Musgraves is a country star who ultimately believes in Willie Nelson more than astrology, tarot or Goop. She knows that the greatest country songs ever written aim to provide tidy answers to the thorniest questions of existence. Lucky for those of us who think of wellness lifestyles as spiritual make-believe for people with money, those are still the kinds of songs Musgraves wants to write.

The job demands honesty, and throughout “Deeper Well,” it requires Musgraves to cop to everything she’s learned from her astrologer and her therapist (who we must hope are not the same person). “My Saturn has returned,” she announces at the start of the album’s title track, explaining how, in the eight-year aftermath of turning 27, she slowly disentangled herself from everyone in her orbit who exudes “dark energy.” The starry, self-care language isn’t too distracting, though. This is a plush, liquid breakup ballad about resilience and closure, and Musgraves sings it with a gorgeous flatness that she’s made her signature, as if transposing the physical landscape of her native Texas into a sound.

On “Dinner with Friends,” she pledges her love for her home state with an asterisk, praising “the sky there, and the horses, and dogs, but none of their laws,” then moves onto something even bigger with “The Architect,” wondering how God designed the Honeycrisp in the palm of her hand. “Even something as small as an apple, it’s simple and somehow complex,” she sings. “Sweet and divine, the perfect design. Can I speak to the architect?” As an acoustic guitar and a piano do their quiet waltz in the background, Musgraves gently tweaks the song’s last line to send us all tumbling into the void: “Is there an architect?”

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The production choices across “Deeper Well” sound artful and thoughtful, too, even when they feel exceedingly literal. “Cardinal” — a beautiful, chiming, vaguely psychedelic song about an omen-bird delivering “a message from the other side” — feels as if it were produced to jangle like the Byrds. On “Deeper Well,” the notes that follow the refrain are treated with a reverb designed to evoke coins tossed into a watering hole. But more than anything, mind the drums. They’re propulsive and rich, like bean bags plopping on cornhole boards (“Cardinal”), or like open hands swatting at tabletops (“Sway”), or like ping-pong balls bouncing around inside an empty cardboard box (the moon bath song, “Jade Green”). Sonically, this album’s message is about the necessity of forward momentum, evolution, progress. What fundamentally redeems Musgraves in her wellness phase is that she’s moving through it.

First appeared on www.washingtonpost.com

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