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Monday, 1 March, 2010 11:43 AM

Miranda Lambert Packs More Than Heat on 'Revolution'

Photo by Randee St. Nicholas

Miranda Lambert

By Bob Doerschuk
© 2010 CMA Close Up News Service

Revolution was in the air at the Ryman Auditorium on the night of Sept. 24. The capacity crowd, filled with Nashville music glitterati, roared as the house lights darkened. Cameras flashed, as if pictures of the solitary microphone stand in front of the stage curtain could capture the moment. Music blared over the P.A. — the lazy stroll of The Beatles’ “Revolution,” the growling promise of Steve Earle’s “The Revolution Starts Now.”

And then the curtain whipped open and in a blaze of lights Miranda Lambert and her band blasted into “White Liar,” the second single and first of 15 tracks on her new Columbia Records album, Revolution. They played each one in sequence, the joyful snarl of her Natalie Hemby co-write “Only Prettier” slipping easily into the slow-motion intensity of “Dead Flowers” and so on. On the faster tunes, during instrumental breaks,
Lambert stepped back to join the musicians, pounding her guitar, whipping her head back and forth, immersed in the beat. On the ballads she stood still, eyes closed, caressing each word in the lyric — or, during her reading of Tom Douglas’ and Allen Shamblin’s “The House That Built Me,” she sat on a stool, just a few feet before her parents in the front row; as she sang the line “Daddy gave life to Mama’s dream,” her father could be seen wiping away a tear.

So it went all the way to the closer, “Virginia Bluebell,” a wistful ballad written by Lambert, Hemby and Jennifer Kennard, delicate in texture and hopeful in tone. As she finished, the stage lights dimmed, the audience seemed to hold its breath — and suddenly Lambert stood again in the light, proclaiming with disarming directness, “That’s it! That’s Revolution, y’all!”

“She is so accessible,” said Joe Galante, Chairman, Sony Music Nashville, recalling that moment and the ovation that followed. “That was a very emotional night for all of us. It was a very bold step for her to go, ‘I’m going to play my entire new album, which I delivered a couple of weeks ago, in front of the most important audience of my career, and cross my fingers.’ But as she went through it and then jumped into the hits she’s had, you got a complete picture of Miranda Lambert. You think of her as this angry chick, ready to blow somebody’s head off. And then you see her and what she puts into the music, how careful and thoughtful she is about it, the reverence she has for everything that’s involved — and she’s a sweetheart!”

Certainly it was clear to all at the Ryman that night that Lambert has come a long way since she nearly made it to the top of “Nashville Star” in its first season. Her first album, Kerosene, would break the Platinum barrier; the follow-up, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, debuted on the charts at No. 1. On tours with Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith, George Strait and Keith Urban, she proved that she could rock it in stadiums as hard as she had done on the Texas club circuit in her teens.

Revolution, though, is a revelation, revealing an insight into subtler emotions and an elevating technique as a vocal stylist that match her celebrated ways of conveying the romance of danger — or, perhaps, the dangers of romance.

“I think Revolution is more diverse than the other two,” Lambert mused. “It’s a lot the same too; we use the same musicians and the same producers, so there’s still that element of the Miranda Lambert sound that I’ve had throughout the other records. But it has a lot more elements about different phases of life because that’s what I’m living. This is definitely my favorite album that I’ve done.”

“The first album was fun,” recalled Frank Liddell, who co-produced all three of Lambert’s albums with Mike Wrucke. “There was an element of feeling each other out in a good, positive way. With the second one everyone was excited but tentative, if that makes sense, like, ‘Wow, can we do it again?’ This one was like, ‘Hey, we’ve done it twice. Let’s go and have that much fun again.’”

With the same two producers and core lineup of musicians including guitarists Richard Bennett, Jay Joyce and Randy Scruggs, bassist Glenn Worf, drummer Chad Cromwell and percussionist Eric Darken, each of Lambert’s albums represents a collective as well as individual growth. They also reflect the spontaneity that has become essential to their process. “I never listen to demos on her stuff,” said Wrucke. “I don’t want to hear someone else’s vision for a song in a quick demo and then try to get that out of my head. I only want to hear her play and sing the song acoustically and then we make it up from there.”

“I love working with these guys because they build tracks around my lyrics instead of making a track and I sing over it,” Lambert explained. “I don’t have anything in mind when I go into the studio. I play my song and say, ‘Y’all go and do what you think it should sound like.’ It’s like ‘White Liar,’ which I wrote with my friend Natalie (Hemby). I just sat down and played the song for the musicians, they went in and noodled for about an hour and it started coming together. And the original of the John Prine song, ‘That’s the Way That the World Goes ’Round,’ is obviously very different from our version. It was definitely a surprise to all of us, the shape that song took on. We had so much fun letting it go, with everybody getting out of control. It was a blast because there were really no rules, and that gives everybody such creative feeling.”

The sonic range of Revolution goes beyond the limits of her previous work, pushing even into territories that Wrucke characterizes as “Country punk.” Galante concurred, noting that the album “has edge and power, with the soulfulness of what comes out of the Country side. If Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings were able to conceive a child, it would have been Miranda Lambert; that’s what this sound is to me.”

Yet Lambert, who wrote or co-wrote 11 of these songs, considers this to be her most Country-oriented album to date. “I love steel guitar and it has tons of steel,” she pointed out. “And it’s more lyrically Country.”

She cites two songs as examples: “Maintain the Pain,” one of the three tracks she wrote on her own, and “Airstream Song,” among four collaborations with Hemby featured on the album. “‘Maintain the Pain’ is definitely a rocker but the lyrics could be sung in a totally different way because it’s a Country song,” she said. “And ‘Airstream Song’ is 100 percent Country. Maybe I say that because I’m a Country girl and I wrote the song from a Country girl’s perspective. It’s up to everybody else to interpret what they think about the lyrics. But almost every song on here, at least the ones I wrote, has a Country element, not only because of my influences and roots but because of the way I sing them.”

The reference in “Maintain the Pain” to shooting her radio and her swaggering cover of Fred Eaglesmith’s “Time to Get a Gun” fit easily withthe image established by “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Gunpowder & Lead” and “Kerosene,” but Revolution also highlights a poetic quality that seems likely to add dimension to her writing and vocal interpretation from this point. Listening to the imagery unfold throughout “Dead Flowers,” for instance, is like studying a still life and finding new layers of meaning with each passing minute.

“That came from a vase of flowers I had gotten for Valentine’s Day,” she said of this song, which she wrote solo. “I had to throw them out because I was leaving town and I thought, ‘Wow, what a waste.’ Also, I leave my Christmas lights up all year, so they were kind of hanging down and some of them were broken. That started the entire song. I wanted to write it so that when people listened they could see what I was seeing.”

It also helped her reach deeper into her resources as an interpreter of lyrics. “I definitely had to put myself in character for songs like ‘Dead Flowers’ because I’m happy right now. I’m in a great place in life. But I like songs that are about reality, so I have to remember the pain and remember being angry when I write from that perspective. When I wrote ‘Dead Flowers,’ I was hanging out at the farm with the animals. Blake (Shelton) was over. It was actually a really great day — but I wrote this sad song. So I guess I’m reinventing myself a little bit lyrically and breaking out artistically. It’s all about reinventing yourself while staying true to your originality.”

That, according to Galante, is the key to what he sees as Lambert’s arrival as an artist with true staying power. “She has strength and power but she also has vulnerability and sensitivity. On this record, we’ve gotten the balance between the two. That’s what draws people to her — and that’s why it’s important for the format to have her.”

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Photo by Randee St. Nicholas

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