Miranda Lambert was a finalist on the Nashville Star talent show, scoring a major-label contract that vaulted her into the Nashville elite. Lambert was part of a wave of rough-edged, newer artists who pushed against the goopier pop production that dominated Nashville in the early '00s, bringing serious twang and bad-girl heft to modern country music. Lambert soon became part of the country establishment, topping the charts, marrying country star Blake Shelton and changing her sound maybe just a little bit over the years... Here's a quick look at her work...
Miranda Lambert "Miranda Lambert" (2002)
Miranda Lambert "Kerosene" (Sony, 2005)
(Produced by Frank Liddell & Mike Wrucke)
Newcomer Miranda Lambert was a finalist on the Nashville Star talent show. But since I don't get cable, I can't hold that against her. All I've got to go by is the album in front of me, and it's pretty damn good. Lambert has a distictive, plaintive voice that makes up in sincerity and emotional directness what it lacks in richness of tone. She also has an unusual repertoire of seemingly awkward lyrics wed to sleek-yet-twangy tunes... Sound familiar? It should: listening to Lambert's debut is a bit like listening to a theoretical solo album by Nathalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks. And I don't mean that as a slam -- hardly! I like the 'Chicks a lot, and I think there's plenty of room in the Country charts for like-minded gals, particularly when they pen memorable material like the songs on this album. Several melodies echoed around in my head on the days that I was listening to this disc, and yet these tunes -- all but one of which was written or co-written by Lambert -- have little of the overblown, over-the-top pop feel of contemporary Nashville studio music. There are a few raspy, Sheryl Crow-ish blues/rock touches that could've been left out, but other than that, I gotta say I'm impressed. And I'm looking forward to her next album!
Miranda Lambert "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" (Sony, 2007)
(Produced by Frank Liddell & Mike Wrucke)
First-rate top country... On the opening tracks, Lambert lays it on pretty thick with the bad-gal/outlaw schtick... On "Gunpowder And Lead," she follows the Dixie Chicks' example of glorifying murder as a solution to domestic violence: Lambert's character sits at home in the dark, a shotgun on her lap just waiting for Mr. Wrong to come back, so she can get to the gunshot heard at the end of the track... This is followed with the similarly rowdy, but funny "Dry Town" about the arcane liquor laws of the Midwest and South (and, hey, it's written by Gillian Welch and David Rawlings! Nice indie roots, there, gal!) From there on out we are treated to a wealth of original tunes written or co-written by Ms. Lambert, all of them impressive, in various ways. "Famous In A Small Town" is a great tune about life inside a goldfish bowl, while the title track brings us back to the Gretchen Wilson-esque tough-girl routine... but it's also a funny song, and not just a gimmick. Then come some slow, sad ballads, and the force of personality that propelled us through her rowdy songs suddenly gives way to some genuine interpretive powers: this gal really can sing country, when you take the neo-Southern rock guitars out of the mix! I'm not fond of a few tunes -- "Down" and "Getting Ready" are real clunkers -- but overall this is a very impressive record. Lambert emerges as a potent songwriter (as well as an anomaly in the Nashville machine, where most singers are interpreters first, songwriters second...) and with this batch of self-penned smashes, Miranda firmly establishes herself as a force to be reckoned with. Plus, her cover of Susannah Clark's "Easy From Now On" is a nice way to close the album... Hey, I'm sold!
Miranda Lambert "Revolution" (Sony/Columbia Nashville, 2009)
Miranda Lambert "Dead Flowers" (EP) (Sony/Columbia Nashville, 2009)
A four-song EP...
Pistol Annies "Hell On Heels" (Columbia, 2011)
(Produced by Frank Liddell, Mike Wrucke & Glenn Worf)
A twangy, bouncy, boisterous set from Ms. Lambert and a couple of her pals, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, two singers who have been kicking around in the Nashville studios for the past few years. The trio has a nice sound, with plenty of sweet harmonies woven into their sassy, bad-girl vibe... I imagine this side-project is a big relief for Ms. Lambert, who's always peppered her albums with rowdy songs, but must be under a lot of pressure to make her own records more salable and formula-driven: you'd never hear this much cussing on a Top 40 station, but here she can cut loose and have a little fun. We can, too, singing along to songs like "Takin' Pills," "Lemon Drop" and "Trailer For Rent." Pretty fun stuff! A nice surprise from Nashville, for sure.
Miranda Lambert "Four The Record" (Sony, 2011)
Oh, dear. This wasn't what I was hoping for at all. When Miranda Lambert let her rough side drag on the "group" album by Pistol Annies, I figured she was segregating her rowdy material for a reason, but I wasn't quite prepared for what that reason would be. I thought Four The Record was just going to be a softer-edged Ms. Lambert, more ballads, less throwing beer bottles, more marketable for Nashville. What I wasn't prepared for was that she was going to try A Big Experiment and, more surprisingly, that it would be such A Huge Disaster. I like Miranda Lambert. I think she's cool. And very talented. But this record... Well, it starts off with the poppish, amorphous "All Kinds Of Kinds," which -- like a couple of other songs on the album -- I think is an attempt to write like Taylor Swift, with rambling, poetic lyrics and unconventional song structures. It's okay, I guess, but the next song, "Fine Tune," is just plain awful -- a blunt, artless rock song with Lambert's voice pointlessly processed through a megaphone-ish sound effect. Ick. The first part of this album is pretty terrible, although things improve on the second half. The single, "Baggage Claim," is a nice funky rock tune, ala Sheryl Crow -- deservedly a hit, though questionably "country." There are also a couple of nice album tracks that stand up to repeat auditions -- "Same Old You," and a cover of Gillian Welch's "Miss Ohio" -- though they don't quite outweigh her stumbles elsewhere. Keep in mind, this is just me talking, and I get kinda cranky sometimes -- other Lambert fans seem split, with a many expressing bitter disappointment, and others digging it. I think she could have used a stronger editor this time around, though... It's admirable she tried to stretch out artistically, but a lot of this stuff should have stayed in the can.
Pistol Annies "Annie Up" (Sony Nashville, 2013)
Hell, yeah! Bad girls make good country... I have to admit, Miranda Lambert kind of lost me on her most recent, rock-tinged album, but her Pistol Annies bandmate Ashley Monroe just came out with one of the sweetest, traditional-sounding (Dolly Parton-esque) country albums of the years, so I am all on board with Annies album #2. Bring it on!
Miranda Lambert "Platinum" (RCA Nashville, 2014)
Miranda Lambert "Revolution: Live By Candlelight" (DVD) (Sony-Nashville, 2010)
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