East Texan country artist Kacey Musgraves pens original tunes about every facet of her small-town upbringing, experiences that shaped her live-and-let-live approach to life. So it's strange that perhaps the most revealing moment of the 27-year-old Grammy winner's concert Thursday night at Dallas' downtown Majestic Theatre involved a song from Mary Poppins.
Allow me to explain: Halfway through Musgraves' 90-minute performance, she told the adoring full house about how she'd been approached last year to record a tune of her choosing for the compilation album We Love Disney.
She'd considered jams from childhood favorites like Aladdin, The Little Mermaid and Pocahontas, but thought about it a little longer and landed on an older chestnut, "A Spoonful of Sugar."
Musgraves and her band (five country-hipster dudes dressed in light-up, raspberry-hued suits) proceeded to play the song -- about finding fun in every task -- with a Western swing rhythm, slowing down and speeding up at just the right moments.
The song choice and delivery demonstrated Musgraves' supreme strength: She knows herself so well that even the songs she covers perfectly represent her artistic outlook.
The entire headlining set on Thursday echoed the lesson of that Mary Poppins tune: Songs from acclaimed albums Same Trailer Different Park (2013) and last year's Pageant Material balance dreamy melodies and tongue-in-cheek wordplay with lyrics about all-too-human struggles.
"Silver Lining" celebrates joy that arises from pain, "Biscuits" and "Follow Your Arrow" urge individuality even when it's not convenient, "Family is Family" speaks to the complicated but unconditional love of kin folk.
Given that Musgraves' hometown of Golden, Texas, (shouted out sublimely in "Dimestore Cowgirl") is only about 85 miles east of here, it was no surprise that the singer's own family members and friends were out in full force at the Majestic. That could have been one reason the evening felt looser than past gigs. It was also the first full live gig of 2016 for Musgraves and her band, so a bit of awkwardness crept in here and there when between-song lulls lasted too long.
Any pacing issues were forgiven, though, whenever the pink-tutu-clad star focused on her gorgeous guitar-picking and singing. When her band took a short break, she grabbed a stool and delivered a knock-em-dead acoustic performance of her first hit, "Merry 'Go Round." The crowd felt inspired enough to back her on the chorus. They were also delighted when she honored a shouted-out request to sing a few bars from "Five Finger Discount," a funny song she wrote years ago about a girl who stole some of her belongings.
A solid complement to the main attraction was an opening set by the Nashville-based, Dallas-rooted country singer Andrew Combs. He and his four band members offered up a handful of stirring tunes that fell somewhere between the barroom poetry of Kris Kristofferson and the alt-country melancholy of Ryan Adams. Combs' band showed impressive cohesion on both the slower "Please Please Please" and the endlessly groovin' "Month of Bad Habits." Look up both those songs now if you know what's good for you.
Yet the burned-in memories from Thursday's show are all about Musgraves, singing beautifully and cracking wise in front of her '80s prom backdrop. She delivers plenty of substance, but always adds in just enough whimsy.