Kacey Musgraves Credit: Jamie Nelson

Since Kacey Musgraves released her 2015 album Pageant Material she’s gained popularity and also a husband, fellow singer-songwriter Ruston Kelly. On her third studio album, Golden Hour (MCA Nashville), the new-breed country star moves away from sharp observations of small-town life toward something more universal. The shift in her lyrics is matched by a musical pivot toward grand pop gestures that sometimes turn the songs’ country instrumentation into chintzy decoration, as when banjo licks ripple through the stiff expression of wanderlust on the Coldplay-like “Oh, What a World.” Musgraves has always had strong pop instincts, and on Golden Hour she’s doubled down on fizzy emotions in songs that embrace joy and satisfaction. She describes the fluttery, happy feelings of romance on “Butterflies” and settles into a more relaxed, self-possessed state of mind on the sun-baked opener “Slow Burn.” Other tracks touch on the disappointment of heartbreak, particularly “Space Cowboy,” where Musgraves drops biting wordplay ending with the kiss-off “You can have your space, cowboy,” and “Happy & Sad,” where she sings of creeping insecurity encroaching on her euphoria. It’s hard not cringe at the pop-house groove and plebeian lyrics of “High Horse,” where the put-down chorus “Yeah, everyone knows someone who knows someone / Who thinks they’re cooler than everybody else” lacks the sting of her old writing. I’m glad Musgraves is happy, but I do miss the depth and detail of the songs she created when she wasn’t.   v