Kacey Musgraves, ‘Blowin’ Smoke’ – ToC Critic’s Pick [Listen]
The magic of many of the songs on Kacey Musgraves' debut album -- including her new single 'Blowin' Smoke' -- is in the little details. 'Merry Go 'Round' thrived in efficient specificity. The follow-up is equally effective in its portrayal of a life waiting tables.
Of course, the waitress Musgraves plays on this song is but a symbol for anyone trapped in a dead end job. There are surprisingly few country songs about serving tables or working in restaurants, something so many Nashville singers did before their big break and something so many Americans can relate to. Restaurant people are a strange breed, cliquish with good reason. It's a high-pressure, fast-paced environment that attracts smokers and drives people to light up.
"And we're all out here talkin' trash / Makin' bets, lips wrapped 'round our cigarettes / She always thought she was too good to be a waitress," Musgraves sings over a shuffling guitar lick that is the epitome of cool. She's captured the back room vibe -- or, more accurately these days, the dumpster-side conversation.
The chorus goes:
"We all say, that we'll quit someday / When our ship comes in, we'll just sail away / But we're just blowin' smoke, hey, yeah / We’re just blowin' smoke, hey, yeah." One can almost hear teeth chattering as these women bare a brutally cold night to get their fix.
The second verse adds a pair of subtle backing voices, and as the song moves along, the circle gets bigger. "Well, Janie got divorced again / Her ex-husband's in the pen for 2 to 5, or 5 to 10, or longer / And Brenda's traded smokes for cake / Still hadn't lost that baby weight / And that baby's ‘bout to graduate from college."
After the bridge, Musgraves nails the late-night routine: "Wipe down the bar, take out the trash / Light one up and count my cash / Swear I'm never coming back again / I'm just blowin' smoke, hey yeah."
Great songwriters pack a movie's worth of detail inside of three minutes. Every element of 'Blowin' Smoke' works together to fill in gaps in a listener's mind, especially one who's never behind behind the bar or in front of a line cook, nervously tapping on a steel counter while their table's food is prepared. The peculiarity of subject matter may prevent this single from being a chart-topper, but one gets the feeling that's not the singer's measure of success anyway.
Listen to Kacey Musgraves, 'Blowin' Smoke'