In recent years, I wouldn’t give a nickel for most of what they call country music of the major label variety coming out of Nashville. Two recent releases offer a ray of hope that perhaps another return to the roots may be coming. The albums are from two relative newcomers, Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe, and each record has deservedly received a ton of critical acclaim since their late winter release dates. Let’s take a look.
“Same Trailer Different Park”
“Like a Rose”
Warner Brothers Records - Nashville
I might as well go out on a limb right now and predict that the major label solo debut albums “Same Trailer Different Park” and “Like a Rose” from newcomers Kacey Musgraves and Ashley Monroe will land in countless critics’ Top 10 lists come year’s end. Each of these new voices on the country scene brings a twenstysomething frankness (Musgraves is 24, while Monroe is 26) to their respective songwriting styles. The lack of reserve in each woman’s approach to writing and their subject matter is flat-out refreshing, as is the more tradition-leaning country instrumentation deployed on each album versus the often watered-down sound of too many Nashville records trying so hard for middle-of-the-road likeability. In other words, each flies in the face of today’s formula. Of the two, Ms. Musgraves’ album is the more heavier and serious in tone whereas Monroe finds a nice balance between weighty numbers and those with a playful side. On “Same Trailer Different Park,” Musgrave has stories to tell and displays a gorgeous voice in the process. Her major label debut after three self-released albums, the Texas native writes songs that folks of her generation-and-then-some can relate to and doesn’t hold back letting her beliefs and feelings fly. Relationships and romance, family ties, and small town gossip are all nothing new to country songs. Musgraves takes the listener from the inspirational backdrop behind the addictive leadoff track “Silver Lining” to the freedom of a home on wheels (“My House”) to the dead end, small town undercurrent of the centerpiece of the album “Merry Go ‘Round” to the to-each-their-own spirit of “Follow Your Arrow” where she sings “Make lots of noise / And kiss lots of boys / Or kiss lots of girls / If that’s something you’re into” Of the latter song, in the oft-times conservative world Nashville country music most performers wouldn’t touch a line like that with a 10-foot pole. It’s moments like that from Musgraves on “Same Trailer Different Park,” not to mention her terrific voice and catchy melodies, which truly grab the ear.
Monroe, on the other hand, who is also one-third of the female trio Pistol Annies along with superstar Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley, also proves the non-conformist on her debut “Like a Rose.” She demonstrates an uncanny gift for telling stories in song and sings like someone who’s packed a ton of experiences into her 26 years. Monroe begins on a note similar to that of Musgrave’s with the title track about persevering through hard times but making it in the end, before deep diving into the hard country of “Two Weeks Late” about getting jilted and being late on more than just the rent. She has some honky tonk-styled fun on numbers like the throwback tune “She’s Driving Me Out of Your Mind,” her duet with Blake Shelton on the high-spirited hillbilly-styled romp “You Ain’t Dolly (and You Ain’t Porter),” and “Weed Instead of Roses” which is a new page on male-female country frolic. Monroe also has an ace in the hole on the production front in Vince Gill who knows plenty about good songs with a nod to the country music tradition and who enlists many of the cream of the crop of the Music City musician scene to give “Like a Rose” its stone country backdrop.
Each of these albums follows in the footsteps of such groundbreaking queens of country as Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and those are some pretty big shoes to fill. Who knows where each will go from here, but so far, oh so good.
Area favorites the Jason Colonies Band reunite for an evening of music on Friday night at one of their favorite watering holes, The Ocean Mist (895 Matunuck Beach Road, Matunuck), with music beginning around 9 p.m.
At the Narragansett Café (25 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown) on Sunday afternoon, Rhythm & Roots Fest favorites Sarah & the Tall Boys, who recently relocated from Chicago to Nashville, will entertain from 4 to 7 p.m.
Festival time in New England is upon us and for both locale and lineup, few can match Solid Sound Festival (a.k.a. The “Wilco” Festival). After taking a year off, the third annual takes place June 21-23. The location is once again the incredible, retooled industrial grounds of the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (a.k.a. MASS MoCA) located in North Adams, Mass.
The curator of the event is the band Wilco who will also perform on two of the festival’s three days. Music begins on Friday evening (the first day of summer!) with Yo La Tengo, the incredible soul/gospel band The Relatives, Austin psych/jam band White Denim, and Wilco to close out the night. Saturday is equally strong with Wilco, Neko Case, Low, Foxygen, Dream Syndicate, Lucius, Mark Mulcahy (of Miracle Legion fame), Sam Amidon, and John Hodgman’s Comedy Cabaret featuring Reggie Watts, Al Madrigal and Jen Kirkman. Sunday is also strong with The Blisters, Mikael Jorgensen & Greg O’Keefe, Nels Cline & Julian Lage, Glen Kotche’s On Filmore, The Autumn Defense, Border music featuring Mark Ribot and David Hidalgo (Los Lobos), Os Mutantes, and Medeski, Martin & Wood.
Located in restored mill buildings, the MASS MoCA site is pretty incredible with plenty of nooks and crannies and music happening at various locations on its grounds. Food trucks will be there aplenty and admission to the fest also allows you to check out the incredible art exhibits.
Weekend tickets are still available, as are single day tickets. If there is such thing as an Ear Bliss guarantee of a good time this fest is it.
Check out www.solidsoundfestival.com  for information.
(Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance broadcast Thursday nights from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.)