Before Kacey Musgraves floored the country world with Same Trailer, Different Park, she tested the Texas waters as an independent artist. In fact, she released three albums before most of the world really met her through her knockout track “Merry Go ‘Round.”
And while her life-changing 2013 album turns four this week (she released in March 19, 2013), we thought we’d turn the clock back even further. All the way back to 2003 and her second album, Wanted: One Good Cowboy.
Kacey Musgraves grew up in a creativity-inclined household, and her parents always encouraged her performing. In many cases, they took her on the local Opry circuit, where she’d sing classic tunes with house bands. She even earned a bit of a reputation as a fine singer and yodeler in East Texas.
When she released Wanted in 2003, Musgraves was only 14 years old. Pretty dang impressive, considering she released first album Movin’ On less than a year earlier at age 13. Most of the album features covers, including many classic tunes like Jimmy Rodgers’ “When It’s Peach Pickin’ Time In Georgia.”
Musgraves also takes a stab at a yodeling classic, and she absolutely crushes it. She sings “If I Could Only Learn To Yodel,” a tune made famous by Patsy Montana in the 1940s. Now, the premise of the song — that a man fell for a woman thanks to her yodeling skills — seems a bit silly at first. But darn it if there isn’t something hypnotic about the lonesome yodel.
Let’s take a step back for a second. Because in many ways, Musgraves excellent execution of the song is really just the first layer of impressiveness on this onion.
First of all, let’s look at that album artwork. Anybody who claims Kacey Musgraves’ current affection for fringe and hats is a gimmick should look at her early work. Because she’s clearly been all about the sparks and fringe since day one. The western font, star vignette look and “wanted” poster reference all feel like nice touches too.
But this is 2003, not 1980. Musgraves was a 14-year-old girl and the top songs of the day were tunes like 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” Kelly Clarkson’s “Miss Independent” and Shania Twain’s “Forever and For Always.” Do you have any idea how difficult it is to go to your friends with an album full of classic country and yodeling tunes?
Because Musgraves doesn’t just whip out the yodel once. Three songs feature the full throated, guttural singing style to its full effect. She also signs “Yodeler’s Lament” and “Texas Yodeler.” And not to spoil the fun, but in all three the cowboy falls for the yodeling cowgirl. (Starting to think the rest of us are missing something).
And the truth is, the songs are all really well produced. Especially for a small-town teenage girl. In 2003. Before recording became much more affordable and accessible. If Musgraves picked all the songs herself, she showed an extremely deep appreciation of classic country music. If she didn’t, she showed a striking willingness to do them justice.
Musgraves touched on her yodeling past briefly in a 2015 piece for Rolling Stone. Not surprisingly, she saw it with the same humor your best friends might. “I look back now and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s so cheesy,'” she says. “I sound like a chipmunk.”
And while it’s fun to poke her in the ribs for what some may consider an unusual (and for some, embarrassing) stab at country music, the truth is, Musgraves still pulls it off with the confidence that eventually won her Grammys.
On Wanted: One Good Cowboy, we also get a chance to hear some of her first original tunes. She included both “Texas Smile” and “Before My Time” on the record. The latter speaks of talks with her grandparents, a theme she revisits years later in sophomore label album Pageant Material.
Musgraves eventually released another album in 2007, along with a two-song EP and her famous feature on Josh Abbott’s “Oh, Tonight.” Each time she released something, she sounded a little less like a yodeling cowgirl and more like the Kacey Musgraves we know and love. But her first albums point to a country cred that few, if any, of her contemporaries have.
So just remember the next time somebody dares to suggest she’s inauthentic, Kacey Musgraves has been living this music her whole life.