Song Review: Kacey Musgraves, “Rainbow”

It’s time to make amends for 2018 and finally see what everybody’s been talking about.

The relationship between Kacey Musgraves and mainstream country radio has always been chilly, and thus despite releasing four singles last year, none of them found enough traction on the charts to pop up on my radar screen. Given the buzz surrounding Musgraves, I resolved to do a better job looking out for her releases this year, and when “Rainbow,” the closing track from her acclaimed album Golden Hour, started showing up randomly on station add lists (perhaps in anticipation of the Grammy awards?), I took the opportunity to see just how Musgraves stacked up against some of the mainstream mediocrity I’ve been wrestling with lately. (Sure, it might not be an official single yet…or ever…but that didn’t stop me from declaring Glen Campbell’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” one my favorite songs of 2017, did it?) So I dug up the audio, hit ‘Play,’ and…

…okay, I think I get it now.

This seems to me like a solid, thought-provoking song (and a lot better than some of the copycat ramblings I’ve heard recently), and makes my next question “So why isn’t Musgraves on the radio again?”

The production here reaches for the same serious piano that everyone else does, but instead of gradually adding more instruments and building to an anthemic swell for the climax, it steps back and lets the piano carry the melody by itself—no guitars, no drums, and no frills. With such a methodical, repetitive riff and a simple chord structure, you wouldn’t think this would generate much atmosphere for the song, but you’d be wrong: The sound is a lot more full and spacious than, say, Chris Janson’s “Drunk Girl” (he has to rely more on the steel guitar), and the song feels warmer and more comforting as a result. The mixture strikes a nice balance between the brighter choruses and darker verses, acknowledging the proverbial storms that drove people indoors while declaring that the weather has finally improved. It’s a superb fit for the writing, which encourages people to come out of their shells to see the beauty of the world around them, since it accentuates the idea that they’re in a safe space and can let down their defenses. If you’re looking for an example of less being more, this mix might be the definitive one.

Vocally, I hear a lot of Lee Ann Womack in Musgraves’s delivery, both in her tone and in the sympathy she can project with her charisma. This song doesn’t tests Musgraves’s range or flow at all, but it puts a lot of pressure on her to come across as earnest and genuine (especially since that piano is the only backup she’s got). There aren’t a lot of artists in the genre that could pull this off, but Musgraves conquers the challenge without breaking a sweat: She delivers the punch lines with ease, prods her subject to come out into the sun with a gentle touch, and really gives the listener the feeling that she cares about them (or whoever she’s singing about). It’s a pretty impressive feat, and one that makes one wonder why mainstream radio is basically ignoring such a talented performer.

The lyrics are probably the weakest part of the song overall, as the “bad times can’t las forever; come out and see the good in the world” topic has seen its share of attention lately. (Maren Morris and Carrie Underwood touch on the idea in “GIRL” and “Love Wins” respectively, and Gary Allan even used the same rainy-day metaphor in “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain).”) That’s not to say, however, that the writing is bad: I really like the level of detail the narrator provides when talking about the storm, the feeling of being under siege by sadness and depression has near-universal applicability (Tim McGraw, take note: This is how being “effectively vague” works), and instead of focusing on whether or not the narrator is sympathetic, the song flips the dynamic and tells the listener that they are the ones who are deserving of happiness and light. (And hey, it’s not like we need fewer songs with this kind of positivity in country music.) Much like we saw with Jason Aldean’s “Drowns The Whiskey,” being unoriginal doesn’t mean being bad as long as the execution is there, and with Musgraves and her piano around to elevate the track, the lyrics are solid enough to go along for the ride.

I get that Kacey Musgraves and her team aren’t pushing her singles to radio like other artists and labels, but the fact is that country radio is doing itself a disservice by not giving her songs proper airtime. Being only vaguely aware of Musgraves’s work in the past made me wonder if she really belonged in the same breath as the other stars of country’s past and present, but after a few playthroughs of “Rainbow,” I’m a believer. The production and vocals are top-notch, and the writing brings a message of hope and optimism that we can all get behind. Don’t wait as long as I did to find out who Kacey Musgraves is—do yourself a favor and find out today.

Rating: 8/10. It’s definitely worth your time.