Here’s what I knew about Miranda Lambert as of a few months ago: popular country singer, probably well-reviewed, recently married to fellow country artist and “The Voice” cutie, Blake Shelton, and subject of numerous cover versions on amateur singing shows which led me to believe I would have little to no interest in her music. Oh my, how very wrong I was (seriously, there oughtta be a law, no one else should ever sing her songs again) — I’ve been missing out on her for how many years? Here’s a lesson for the kids: just because you graduate and you’re not in a classroom with desks and a teacher, don’t think life won’t school your ass.
In 2011, Miranda released not one, but two albums. Granted, one of those she cut as a trio with two other singer-songwriters, Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, all three sharing composition and vocal duties, but she co-wrote and sang on almost every song. Their name alone caught my attention earlier this year (really, I couldn’t resist a group called The Pistol Annies, especially with an album titled Hell On Heels) and thus began my burgeoning love for Miranda Lambert. Not a gross, stalkerish, 50 Shades of Grey, weird kind of love, but a pure, soulful, spiritual kind of love. If we translate from Japanese to English: fuzzy-pink-happy-monkey-face love. Now, this didn’t come about all at once, but the flint had been struck, and the tinder was dry…
Hell On Heels basically serves as a primer on country music, particularly the music of the 60s and 70s, but with a 21st-century attitude. I realize it’s somewhat facile to compare the group to other trios but you can certainly hear echoes of Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and, from a few years later, Ronstadt, Parton, and Harris (does anyone remember the aptly named Trio?). They recorded the album quickly and there’s a sense of playfulness and ease in the grooves, as if the threesome knew they had a good thing going and could just relax and have fun with it. Why don’t y’all have fun with these tracks before we move on…
…and so the fire spreads. I didn’t know what to expect when I first played Four The Record. If you had asked me to name a Miranda Lambert song I might have known “Gunpowder And Lead,” but I could just as easily have thought maybe Gretchen Wilson or Carrie Underwood sang that one. I kind of expected a solid but straightforward country album that probably wouldn’t be as enjoyable as the recently discovered Pistol Annies. Oh, but how we must humble ourselves before the gods of music. How we must prostrate ourselves. How they must laugh at the puny, ignorant mortals who believe themselves well-informed about all things melodious. Cuz try as you might, you ain’t always gonna be right.
So why, you may ask, all the dramatic speechifying and hyperbole? Why? Because this is the freakin’ White Album of country music! What? What the hell?! Yup. I said it.
Musically, it starts off normal enough with the opening track, but hey, these lyrics are a little different, and what’s with those backing vocals? Neither are what you would call ‘standard’ country. Intriguing. And then, well, then there’s the second track….so, a few seconds ago we were tooling along comfortably at 55 on a sunny back-country highway and now we’ve suddenly lurched off the road with some kind of drugged-out Sheryl Crow singing over a desert scene cut from Oliver Stone’s The Doors. And you may ask yourself, Is this even the same album? And you may tell yourself, This is not my beautiful wife. But most assuredly, it is. The next song again begins like your usual country song when suddenly there’s fiery rock guitar shredding the speakers. And she does this with almost every track, tweaking them out of the ordinary. Think she’s gonna zig? Oh no, my friend, there she zags. New country, traditional country, jazzy country, pop country, rock yer face off country, not even in the realm of country….mmm-hmmm, that’s a tasty gumbo right there. Truly, Miranda plain kills it on this album, singing every song as if she owns it.
And when someone does that, you have no choice but to love them, just a little bit, because now they own a little piece of you, too.