“I found a deeper well” is the thesis statement of Kacey Musgraves’s new album, the source of its title, and the refrain of its first single. That deeper well, the richer self-knowledge that Musgraves says is the source of this music, has come via familiar conduits: meditation, mantras, mushrooms, and Manhattan, where the album was mostly written and recorded. Now, as she recently explained to the Cut, she is “way more grounded” and making serious, reflective music to prove it—a fairly dramatic shift from the pop experiments of Star-crossed.

The song “Deeper Well” outlines this story neatly, a strategic release befitting Musgraves’s status as singer-songwriter turned singer-songwriter-A-lister: it is gently folk-poppy in an on-trend way that nods to the outsized success of her recent collaborators Noah Kahan and Zach Bryan, offers a newsy morsel (she used to smoke a lot of weed, but no longer), and includes digs at unnamed people who are “wasting my time” and “trying to take all they can take” for the superfans to obsess over (her first public relationship postdivorce ended in November). 

The song is hardly Musgraves’s first dive into the deep end: “Die Fun” and “Slow Burn” (two of her best) both take a loosely existential tack, odes to savoring the moment and going one’s own way. What separates “Deeper Well,” the song, and Deeper Well, the album, from their folksy, introspective predecessors is the intensity of the navel-gazing and the corresponding single-mindedness of the album’s sound and flow. Now that Kacey is a near-mononymous sensation, she needn’t even gesture toward releasing an album that includes a variety of sounds and topics. She chooses here to keep the focus narrow. 

There is a slight range to Deeper Well, even if it is a more limited one than Musgraves’s listeners may have come to expect. Together with her collaborators since Golden Hour, Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashian, and a few others, the singer-songwriter explores different degrees of groove and adornment (she coproduced the album), never straying too far from the acoustic guitar as epicenter. The opening track, an ode to John Prine called “Cardinal,” is such a self-conscious throwback that it sounds like it might be sampling Simon & Garfunkel; yet it, along with “Sway” and “Jade Green,” is nearly danceable in a “White Flag”–era Dido kind of way. 

There are musical allusions—it’s hard to imagine “Too Good to Be True” without “Breathe (2 AM),” and “Heaven Is” takes its melody from a Scottish folk song—but Musgraves’s extracurricular reading proves to be a more compelling inspiration. “Dinner With Friends” is Musgraves’s response to Nora Ephron’s prompt to make lists of what you will and won’t miss when you die; “Heart of the Woods,” with its trees that talk to one another, makes it seem like she must have read at least a little of Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass.

These kinds of ideas, plus a fair amount of social media–filtered therapy jargon (Musgraves thanks her therapist in the liner notes, which are framed as a “zine”), shape most of the lyrics that Musgraves sings with more detachment than usual (indicative, perhaps, of her transcendent mental state). Yet her stated influences are traditional: “Sonically, I’ve been craving classic American songwriting,” she said in the album’s press release. “Real songs. No gimmicks. . . . New York is one of the places that kind of record came from. Simon & Garfunkel, the Greenwich Village clubs, fingerpicking and James Taylor. Social commentary. Storytelling.” 

It is considerably harder to see the storytelling and social commentary on Deeper Well than it is to see Musgraves’s inner work and reflection. Social commentary, at least rendered specifically, gets exactly one line among the “things I would miss” on “Dinner With Friends”: “My home state of Texas / The sky there, the horses and dogs / But none of their laws.” In the bio supplied with the album, Musgraves explains that “The Architect”—one of the more conventionally country songs on the release, and the only one cowritten with her early collaborators Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne—was written in response to the Covenant School shooting, in Nashville, yet you’d have no idea without reading that piece of press material. Instead, the song—one of the album’s strongest—seems more likely to live on in youth groups than as a protest anthem.

There’s a trope that is quite popular among the vlogger/influencer crowd called “romanticizing your life.” Musgraves, an avowed denizen of the internet if her Instagram is any indication, seems to have felt the pull of this idea. Her liner notes paint quite a romantic vision of the New York experiences that inspired her, ranging from an Irish bar that’s been mentioned in seemingly every story about the album to the smells of weed and piss in Washington Square Park—all of which are connected, at least in the story of this album, to the sixties folk songwriters who haunted Greenwich Village (she is wearing a black turtleneck and holding an acoustic guitar in the album’s imagery to make the link clear). 

Yet the album itself feels insulated, the product of someone who is buffered from the world by both physical walls (the idea of “home” gets a lot of play) and the comfort and ease money can buy. “Lonely Millionaire” is a bit damning as a portrait of some unnamed person—does Musgraves, too, not step off a plane into a black car that she pays to wait? New York is indeed the boundless buffet she describes, at least for those who, like Musgraves, can afford to sample its riches. 

The biggest challenge of romanticizing one’s life—at least for the influencers who are seeking to use the trend to build their followings by shooting videos of themselves very slowly making coffee to a soft piano soundtrack—is that there is inherently a gap between actually “romanticizing one’s life” (read: trying to live in the moment and enjoy what you have) and the process of capturing that romance for public consumption. Musgraves seems to be doing the former quite adeptly, which is great for her; in her quest to do the latter with Deeper Well, though, she leaves listeners with too thin a slice of that exciting, romantic, and rich life to really taste it.