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DEEPER WELL MARKS KACEY MUSGRAVES’ “SATURN RETURN”

When someone sings about their “Saturn return,” you better expect they will revisit places they’ve been, the roots that have defined them. But you should also know anyone in a Saturn return is moving profoundly into the next phase of their life.

Who they are is considered through the prisms of who they were—all incarnations, paths taken, personas embodied. For Kacey Musgraves, who’s been a plucky, small-town Lone Star girl (Same Trailer Different Park), a beauty shop-throwback country queen of the Loretta Lynn/Dolly Parton persuasion (Pageant Material), a glistening, post-disco confection (Golden Hour) and an atmospheric, acoustic, space-age ruminator (star-crossed), acclaim and awards would seem to be what bind her musical restlessness together.

But each Musgraves album serves as a personal timestamp or watermark, where the now-35-year-old songwriter from Golden, Texas, sorts through her life and indulges her musical wanderlust. Deeper Well (Interscope/MCA Nashville) sifts all that has come before, brings her back to her songwriting roots—and continues the diary-level intimacy that defines her.

Spilling a little Mamas & the Papas-evoking minor-keyed, acoustic-pop dreaminess, she opens Deeper Well with “Cardinal,” an homage to a bird waiting for the next season; also an emissary from another world. Lush, soft, swirling, it distills the essence of who she is and where she’s going to set the tone for her fifth major-label release.

Strongly femme, vivid and evocative, Deeper Well draws on the folkie cowgirl who charmed with “Follow Your Arrow” but weaves the ambient sonics and creaminess of star-crossed for a contemplative, rather than wry, consideration of where her life is. Like a journey and the postcards sent from it, the dark-haired writer-artist measures self-discovery and actualization the same way she dissects and embraces small town reality, acceptance of all (stoners, LGBTQIA+, truck-stop waitresses), curiosity about the world, kindness and above all, love.

Deeper Well is an album that defies genre. More than country or folk, it’s bucolic; calming when the strings come in, pulse-quickening when the drums or 808s pick up. The guitars don’t bite; the rhythm section rolls more than rocks. With her lean into this world of transcendental gentleness and acceptance, this could almost be pastoral and Western.

Recorded largely at New York City’s Electric Lady Studios with longtime co-producers and co-writers Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, Well seemingly marks the beginning of Musgraves’ metaphysical era. If only she weren’t so practical in places.

Whether the title track’s choosing to focus on the things that feed her, the calculus of “Giver/Taker,” the celestial harmonies of wanting to bend of “Sway” or the sighing truth of “Lonely Millionaire,” she’s arrived at a place where taking care of herself is part of the equation. Perhaps that’s the greatest obligation of all.

Not that the Hello Kitty fans who love Musgraves’ technicolor innocence are going to be disappointed. In some ways, her personal clarity allows her to indulge more in the woo-woo, the fairy dust and the magical. Miyazaki skies, cardinals with messages, gravity bongs, jade bracelets, a million little stars, mushroom trips, meditation, Irish bars, pink champagne cake and more overflow in these songs. Who says seeking had to be austere?

More a vibe that’s equal parts cashmere, tranquility and vespers than a call to the dance floor, Deeper Well moves through something more profound than boyfriends, breakups, moving on or any of life’s major mosaics. After all the moments gathered across 14 songs, Musgraves has created a patchwork quilt of grace and loving oneself.

With her girlish voice, velvety and innocent, Musgraves coos and soothes her listeners. Creating a spell that’ll transfix the cottagecore and grannycore teens and 20-somethings, she offers a harbor to watch the heavens and grow up in the truest sense. She’s not asking you to leave the froufrou behind, she’s merely showing listeners—especially with “Nothing to Be Scared Of”—that we can face what life hands us, mature and have even sweeter times in this newfound knowledge.

Photos: Marta Bevacqua (top), Kelly Christine Sutton (cover portrait)

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