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Kacey Musgraves review, Deeper Well: Symbolism, Saturn returns and psychedelic folk

Cover art for Kacey Musgrave’s new album, ‘Deeper Well' (AP)
Cover art for Kacey Musgrave’s new album, ‘Deeper Well' (AP)

The cardinal, a crimson-plumed bird found in Kacey Musgraves’ native Texas and in New York, where the country singer recorded her latest album, is often said to signify hope or wisdom. Others believe cardinals are spiritual messengers, or harbingers of change.

Symbolism is all over Deeper Well, Musgraves’ sixth record, which opens on the spectacular “Cardinal”. One of her greatest songs to date, the track is steeped in Laurel Canyon folk: acoustic strums and a deep, jangly electric guitar line course beneath her mystical reverb-drenched harmonies. Her drummer channels Mick Fleetwood with laidback grooves and fills.

“I saw a sign, or an omen, on the branches/ In the morning,” Musgraves sings, bright and lilting. “It was right after I lost a friend/ Without warning/ Words unsaid/ Scarlet red… Cardinal, are you bringing me a message from the other side?”

Deeper Well comes in the wake of considerable tumult for Musgraves, as she alludes on the opening track. She’s made it through the Saturn return, an astrological transit some (including Musgraves’ fellow artists, SZA and Ariana Grande) believe brings disruption and chaos into our lives and now in her mid-thirties, Musgraves is reflecting on her divorce from her ex-husband, musician Ruston Kelly – about whom much of her Grammy-winning 2019 album, Golden Hour, was written. There has been more heartbreak since, both romantic and platonic, it seems.

She waves goodbye on the title track over glimmers of synths and a Nashville roll: “You go your way and I’ll go mine/ It’s been a real good time/ But you got dark energy, somethin’ I can’t unsee/ And I’ve got to take care of myself.” On the languorous “Too Good to Be True”, Musgraves admits her fears that a partner might walk away: “Please don’t make me regret/ Opening up that part of myself again.”

She’s in a more romantic mood on “Anime Eyes”, her wide gaze fixed on a “Miyazaki sky” – referencing the great Japanese director of animated films such as Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke – marbled with psychedelic swirls of colour.

Musgraves produces alongside her longtime collaborators, Nashville’s Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, and you can hear the confidence they lend her during a superb interpolation of the muffled piano hook from rapper JID’s “Kody Blu 31” on “Lonely Millionaire”.

As always, she demonstrates her keenness to push outside of the realms of “pure” country, dabbling in psych-pop, folk, rock and Americana along the way, but finds a way to keep it cohesive. After the somewhat limp results of her pop and R&B-leaning 2021 record, star-crossed, Deeper Well is a revelation – as though Musgraves stumbled on an oasis after months in the desert. Led there, perhaps, by a flash of red.