Kacey Musgraves' 10 best acoustic performances

If an artist can strip away all the ready-made, radio-tailored production elements of a song and it stands on its own two feet with only a guitar, there's something innately powerful and profound about that. Kacey Musgraves, who's made it her mission to shatter expectations of women, confidently shines when she takes the stage, studio or any other intimate setting. Guitar in tow, she digs her voice into a groundswell of emotion, packed with narrative punch and truth. Her catalog may only contain two major label studio albums so far (2013's Same Trailer Different Park debut and her sophomore effort Pageant Material), but both projects are compelling, bold and take vibrant snapshots of life. Songs like "Merry Go Round," "Follow Your Arrow," "Keep It to Yourself," "The Trailer Song," "Pageant Material" and "Somebody to Love" are her finest accomplishments, adorned with cutting examinations of celebrity life, romance, heartache, authority and a longing to be oneself.

Too, it is when Musgraves focuses her lens on the lyrics to be the driver of a much larger social commentary that leads her to excel. She's the voice of an entirely new generation of country music listeners and consumers. Extensive touring and her grounded personality have endeared her to millions of fans; her live show is is an exemplary testament to her talents, even backed by a full band, as she does one 2015-16's Country & Western Rhinestone Revue (grab tickets here). But acoustically, she flies even higher than the rest of the bunch.

Below, The Rowdy takes a look at the singer's best acoustic performances:

10. "Oh Tonight" (with Josh Abbott) — Freddie's Place in Austin, Texas (2011)

During a pop-up acoustic session at an outdoor cafe, Musgraves and Abbott launched into a calm performance of their collaboration, which also features newcomer and Texas performance Granger Smith. As the song swells, the crowd around them become captivated. Talent speaks louder than words can describe.

9. "Follow Your Arrow" — Secret Sessions

Taking her lead from the bubbling equal rights movement (at the time, which has now exploded all over the country), Musgraves boldly declared her acceptance of all individuals. While radio avoided the song like the plague, the empowering ode became a bonafide sales hit. Taking away the production, this particular acoustic performance is a definitive representation of the uplighting, powerful message.

8. "Blowin' Smoke" — Nash FM 94.7 (2013)

Between the thumping chorus line and clever lyrics, this debut album gem works even better with a feathery accompaniment. Musgraves sings with a smirk, peaking through the gritty, blue-collar story. But she ain't going broke or just blowin' smoke with this performance!

7. "John Prine" — 2015 Key West Songwriters Festival

Musgraves' songbook has often been compared to the legendary performer, singer, and songwriter John Prine, known for his clever, but revealing lyrics. "Grandma cried when I pierced my nose," she sings, as she high-tails it on acoustic guitar. She later attests, "I play my life like truth or dare."

6. "Rainbow" — Concert at Paradiso, Amsterdam, Holland (2013)

This unreleased song (a criminal act, really) softens her often hard-edged persona. Its simple, yet impactful, message was a highlight during this string of concert dates overseas. While it does lean into the "Silver Lining" territory, the images are more vivid and compelling.

5. "Biscuits" 2014 Key West Songwriters Festival

During last year's annual songwriters round in Key West, Musgraves debuted this gem, the first single from 2015's Pageant Material. Again, her forward-thinking perspective has been a welcome addition to the wide-ranging blanket of modern country.

4. "Mama's Broken Heart" — Cellular Center Listener Lounge

Miranda Lambert cut this track for 2011's Four the Record, and it became a massive hit and one of her most talked-about releases. But Musgraves' original version, and as evidenced by this acoustic rendition, contains more rawness and a subdued pain than Lambert's in-your-face, nearly cartoonish, rollick.

3. "Step Off" — 92.5 XTU Philadelphia (2012)

Months before her debut album dropped, Musgraves worked her contacts on a radio tour to promote not only her first official single but cuts like this one, showcasing her depth and range as a storyteller. "Step Off" was a sure-fire kiss-off, allowing her to deliver some sass and spunk.

2. "Undermine" (with Trent Dabbs; 2012)

The soft ballad earned Musgraves (even more) praise for her heartfelt songwriting capabilities, ultimately being landed on ABC's soapy drama "Nashville" in the show's second episode. The song was polished and primped for Hayden Panettiere's character Juliette Barnes, but the originator's organic approach hits harder.

1. "Merry Go Round" — VEVO Lift (2012)

Her debut single jarred country radio awake, not only because of its wholly traditional lean but its pointed, witty and cutting lyrics. As a comment on consumer distraction and small town life, Musgraves didn't chide rural folk but allowed the narrative to heighten the sense of pain and loss. The track served as the lead to her highly-acclaimed Mercury Records debut Same Trailer Different Park.


Grab tickets for the Country & Western Rhinestone Revue right here.