Thursday, October 29th, 2015

Kacey Musgraves ft. Willie Nelson – Are You Sure

…only Kacey and Willie… hey, wait…


John Seroff: Hard as I tried to warm to it, Pageant Material ultimately rates as something of a sophomore slump. There’s a lack of snap and a hint of formula that suggests the creeping commodification of Musgraves as brand. It’s perhaps telling that two of her best collaborators, Shane McAnally and Brandy Clark, are currently at work on a Hee Haw musical; much of Pageant resonates as first draft work for Kacey! on Broadway. Not, he hastily added, that there’s necessarily anything wrong with that; when the song-and-dance flash matches up with Musgraves’ considerable talent just right, there are a few show-stopping singles to be found. Months later, I continue to return to “High Time” and “This Town” and the ecstatically glum, Danny Elfman-filtered country of “Fine.” That last one provides the fig leaf to an extended “hidden track” (people still do this apparently): a cover of the 1965 Willie Nelson minor classic “Are You Sure.” Nelson’s original is demo raw and no vacancy sad, evoking Hank and Patsy and the grit in the bottom of a last call shotglass. Musgraves’ take feels glossily misplaced, genuflecting in the direction of Outlaw Life under an honest-to-god disco ball, wrapping up the ending with a bow so pretty and final that it demands a round-robin Muppet nod. I’m not doubting the intention or the devotion, but the untarnished charm of the old crooked shack don’t quite feel the same with marble in the outhouse.

Alfred Soto: You want atmosphere? Here it is: yards of pedal steel lines, echo, Willie Nelson plucking those gut strings. On Pageant Material, positioned as the closer, this track evaporated. Recommended to friends who say they don’t like country “except Johnny Cash.”

Thomas Inskeep: Musgraves continues to prove why she’s the non-country fan’s country artist of choice: the arrangement is trapped in 1968 amber, all clichéd slide guitar, and you can hear how hard she’s trying. She’s outclassed not just by Nelson’s song, but by his singing as well. 

Nina Lea Oishi: I nearly missed “Are You Sure” on my first listen of Pagent Material, so overshadowed it was by cheesy fare like “Biscuits.” But it truly is a gem. The song, a mournful fifty-year-old Willie Nelson tune, is perfectly apt for Musgraves, whose Same Trailer Different Park captured a unique voice in the country world — one could comfortably sing midtempo liberal-minded anthems and just as easily transition to the melancholy laments of the downwardly mobile. But what makes “Are You Sure” feel so special to me is the pure sweetness of it, Willie Nelson’s rough croon against Musgraves’s earnestness, country music’s old guard and its new champion, the twang of Shotgun Willie’s guitar trigger along with Musgraves’s backing band drawing a line from 1965 to 2015. “Are You Sure” is worth a listen; it’s not only an homage to country music’s traditions, but a hopeful glimpse of the future.

Micha Cavaseno: I mean, it’d be pretty hard to screw up an easy sell like this, and placing the ol’ stranger on it doesn’t hurt any, does it? 

Anthony Easton: Willie Nelson’s Texas ballads are a genre onto themselves, and in the last couple of years, maybe for reasons of preserving his voice, he has returned to them. They were also wry and a little sad, but being so close to death, there is an added gravitas. For all of her jokes, hee-haw ironic staging and self conscious myth making, I suspect Musgraves knows this, and so the first half of this has that heart breaking obsession — it isn’t quite Willie. She is making an argument to be part of the Family, and the resemblance is strong. When Nelson moves in, he destroys any place Musgraves might have. Nelson is such a generous performer, and he has dueted with everyone; he usually strengthens his partner. There is a mutual generosity of spirit, but maybe because they aren’t actually dueting, or maybe because Musgraves is operating with an anxiety of influence, or maybe because Nelson has been doing this for decades much better, or maybe because Nelson has just gotten really really interesting in the last couple of albums, this kind of fails in an essential way. Go back and listen to “Mendocino County Line” with Lee Ann Womack, or “You Remain” with Sheryl Crow or almost anything on his album of duets with work by women, To All the Girls, to figure out exactly how this might work better. 

Brad Shoup: I spent a lot of nights at the Horseshoe Lounge, rarely thinking about the other barflies and the circumstances that brought them, day in and day out, to a cash-only beer-and-setups bar. When I did think about it, I chalked up everyone’s presence to camaraderie. It was a pleasant way to spend some hours: the jukebox was stocked with Kris and Willie and the Possum, pool was three quarters a game, shuffleboard was free, and Bill came by every week to sell his homemade jerky. You couldn’t smoke in the bar — a local TV station had used the Horseshoe for an hidden-camera exposé — but for some reason the tiny hall between the office and the back door was fine. Plus I spent a few months flirting with a bartender, up until she moved to Tennessee. But I stuck around. We all did. A good bar will let you be lonesome, unless you want to shoot the shit. Stare at the screens, glance at the newcomers, ask about the bartender’s band. It’s the secret depressant, and while I do all my drinking at coffeeshops and sports bars nowadays, I remember the wonderful, narcotic hold.

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One Response to “Kacey Musgraves ft. Willie Nelson – Are You Sure”

  1. I liked Pageant Material; while a step down from her previous album, it still has its gems. This is not one of them, made even worse in how it’s tacked onto the end of the incredible “Fine” on itunes, thus preventing me from replaying it efficiently. I’m disappointed with her choice of singles this era.