Miranda Lambert scares up an audience
When mainstream country listeners first met Miranda Lambert, she was torching an unfaithful boyfriend’s house in “Kerosene,” the title track from her multimillion-selling 2005 major-label debut. That collection entered the country charts at No. 1, and last week her follow-up, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” arrived in the same position and a similar thematic vein.
Lambert, 23, again plays the jilted-psycho role on the banjo-rattled title track, but the real show-stopper is “Gunpowder & Lead,” a blues-rocking blast of double-barreled payback at an abusive boyfriend, ranking alongside the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” as a modern country classic of over-the-top female revenge.
“If somebody hurts me, I’m gonna get even. That’s the way I was raised,” says the Texas-born singer-songwriter, whose parents, Rick and Bev, taught her to stand up for herself. With their private-investigation business, they also inadvertently provided vivid examples of the rotten things people do to each other, especially in relationships. Her dad, a former police officer who’s also a musician, inspired her to become a singer-songwriter, and they even co-wrote the “Kerosene” track “Greyhound Bound for Nowhere.” Nowadays her career is a full-on family affair: Younger brother Luke, 18, runs her website (MirandaLambert.com), Dad handles the merchandising and Mom heads her fan club. She bought her first house close to home ó on her parents’ property, in fact ó to help keep her grounded even as her star continues to rise.
Indeed, Lambert hardly seems like a hair-trigger harpy in person, despite the tattoo of her logo ó two crossed pistols with angel wings ó on her left forearm. Interviewed at an L.A. cafe the week after performing at the inaugural Stagecoach country festival in Indio, she’s friendly and Southwestern casual-cool in a blue sundress and cowboy boots.
“People sometimes ask me, ‘Do you just hate guys?’ And I’m like, ‘No. I have the best dad in the world, I have a great brother, great boyfriend,’ ” the last-mentioned being fellow country artist Blake Shelton. “But if they give me [grief], I’m not gonna take it.” She laughs.
Still, the nutty plunking of banjos and comedic looniness of the song “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” make it more fun than scary. “Girls are like, ‘I would never say that, but I’m a crazy ex-girlfriend; I’m just afraid to admit it,’ ” Lambert says with a giggle. “But I also have a lot of guy fans. I think it’s because their girlfriends go, ‘Hey, listen to this,’ and they end up liking it.” She’s raised eyebrows, not only for her Gretchen Wilson-esque grit but also because she wrote or co-wrote most of the songs on both her albums, rare for a young artist and uncommon in mainstream country. Her writing voice is distinctive, though not always as in-your-face as “His fist is big, but my gun’s bigger / He’ll find out when I pull the trigger,” from “Gunpowder.” Some lines are quite achingly heartbroken, like “Love letters, on wet paper / Forgivers and no takers” from the willowy ballad “Love Letters.” The former contestant on “Nashville Star,” country music’s “American Idol,” is among a growing group of country hit makers mixing the “outlaw” stance of icons such as Merle Haggard with the smooth production of contemporary country. Lambert’s broad appeal has landed her opening spots with touring acts as diverse as bad boy Keith Urban, superstar traditionalist George Strait, and fellow maverick-mainstream hybrid Dierks Bentley. Her next jaunt, starting in June, will be with Toby Keith.
She also appeals to pop audiences. “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” debuted last week at No. 6 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart, and Lambert’s been featured in Entertainment Weekly and People as well as in alt-country bible No Depression, which put her on its cover this month.
She credits Wilson, of “Redneck Woman” fame, with paving the way for her modern brand of twangy feminine rebellion. Yet perhaps paradoxically, Lambert hopes listeners will tune in to her sensitive side on “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” “I’m not trying to be this badass chick all the time,” she says. “I’m about being strong. People ask, ‘Why are you so angry?’ ” The question bewilders her. “I’m like, ‘I’m not angry, I’m happy.’ I have a lot of sides, and I think this album, more than ‘Kerosene,’ portrays them.” The romantically frustrated “Desperation,” the shattered warble of “Love Letters,” and the bitter ballad “More Like Her” do reflect different emotional facets with surprising nuances. The album also includes three covers: Gillian Welch and David Rawlings’ rollicking lament “Dry Town,” Patty Griffin’s boyfriend-kiss-off “Getting Ready,” and Carlene Carter’s “Easy From Now On,” long associated with Emmylou Harris. Yet even when she’s vulnerable, Lambert’s not exactly a wilting flower in love’s fiery furnace. She’s just too old-school.
“Country music is about real things, like drinkin’ and cheatin’,” she says, citing such heroes as Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette. “I just think it got stopped, especially for women, just singing about how happy everything is all the time. That’s not reality. I say things a lot of other women wouldn’t say…. It just became part of my music, because it’s part of me. And I’m really glad, because that’s what sets me apart.”
Miranda Lambert scares up an audience