There’s always a bit of added pressure when an artist follows up a critically acclaimed record that achieved successes like the Academy of Country Music’s Album of the Year award. However, what sort of pressure exists when an artist’s last two albums won that illustrious prize, as Miranda Lambert’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (ACM Album of the Year Winner 2008) and Revolution (Winner 2010) both did?
Working again with Producer Frank Liddell, and welcoming Chuck Ainlay and Glenn Worf into the studio, award-winning singer/songwriter Miranda delivers controlled chaos on her new album Four the Record. The project, due in stores next week, toes the line between traditional country and Americana with loose arrangements and well-placed modern rock distortion.
Songs like “Mama’s Broken Heart,” with creative percussion and vintage guitar sounds, builds through the verse before becoming unhinged in the chorus. Can’t get revenge and keep a spotless reputation, Miranda sings with calculated anger about the song’s pregnant teenage subject being abandoned by her boyfriend. On “Fastest Girl In Town,” Miranda’s rebellious nature is front and center. You got the bullets, I got the gun/ I got a hankerin’ for getting into something, she sings seductively.
With each album, Miranda continues to evolve her sound, and Four The Record is no exception. Tracks like “Fine Tune” illustrate that the 27-year old Texan is more than willing to take risks. Miranda uses a sexy R&B groove, fuzzy slide guitar and distorted vocals to push through the metaphor of getting a love tune-up. She sings of her engine of a heart that would not start before a big hook noting symptoms like, my pulse was nearly gone/ I was almost in need of a defibrillator. Album opener “All Kinds of Kinds” discusses carnival folk, fetish prone politicians and self-medicating pharmacists without condemnation, but a general wave of acceptance that, Ever since the beginning, to keep the world spinning/ It takes all kinds of kinds. The subject matter is no doubt edgy, but Miranda is unwilling to ignore society’s truths.
One of the most impressive things about Miranda is that even when she’s pushing the genre’s boundaries by integrating edgy lyrics and new sounds (like the ambient radio noise that runs through the traditional “Easy Living”), she remains undeniably country. Over heavy acoustic guitars on “Baggage Claim,” Miranda sings with combined fire and soul like a redneck Janis Joplin, At the baggage claim, you got a lot of luggage in your name, describing her inability to handle a boyfriend’s various emotional trips.
Miranda and husband Blake Shelton duet on “Better In the Long Run,” an aching, acoustic-based power ballad that displays the chemistry between the two in textured harmonies. The couple also wrote the song “Over You,” a lonesome ballad dealing with the death of a loved one. Miranda wrote or co-wrote six of the album’s 14 songs, pulling in efforts from other top songsmiths like Lady Antebellum‘s Charles Kelley, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings and Allison Moorer to fill out the project.
Though Miranda is credited with writing slightly less here than on previous albums, her powerful voice reflects a unique musical vision. The pressure of two previous Album of the Year awards doesn’t seem to have affected her as Miranda’s unwavering devotion to her craft and inability to be anything other than honest makes this a compelling listen.