Lambert Finds No Need for False Fronts
Singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert thought notoriety would afford, or even demand, a wall of some sort between herself and her public.
"I guess I thought, 'I'll have this stage persona,' " said Lambert, whose new Revolution album is among the most acclaimed country sets of 2010 and who enters Wednesday's Country Music Association Awards as a top female vocalist nominee. "But I'm into my third album now, and everything has been based on my true person.
"The problem with having a 'persona' is that you might get caught being yourself."
That is, Lambert assures, a good thing.
At a recent tour rehearsal, Lambert had plenty of people around to ensure she offers no false front. Her mother and father watched from across the room as she led her band through the material from "Revolution." Her boyfriend, fellow country artist Blake Shelton, looked up every now and again from his cell phone texting and sang along quietly while sending out Twitter postings. And her little dog, apparently a fan of ballads, walked toward her when she began "The House That Built Me," arriving at her feet by the first chorus and in her arms by the second verse.
In conversation before the rehearsal, Lambert glowed when talking about recent experiences around Merle Haggard and Patty Loveless, both of whom she counts as inspirations.
"The fact that Patty Loveless knows my music at all, that made me really pumped," she said. "This is the first time I've made a record that I want my heroes to hear. This one, I'd hand it to my heroes with no hesitation."
Lambert released "Revolution" in September with a sold-out Ryman Auditorium show built around playing the album from beginning to end. The show drew artists including Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson and Marshall Chapman.
Writing brings out honesty
That's not to say that Lambert disavows her first two albums, or that she's made a dramatic shift in tone, process or delivery from her 2005 debut album "Kerosene." But 25-year-olds (she turns 26 Tuesday , Nov. 10 ) often have different things to say than 21-year-olds, and Lambert seems to be finding her own sweet spot, an intersection of craft, experience and inspiration.
"When I'm writing, I'm really honest," she said. "And I also live out fantasies through my lyrics."
The new album has a song that begins "I put a bullet in my radio," and though Lambert is reportedly handy with a pistol, she said that one lands more in the fantasy camp.
"There was a moment that I was listening to a radio station and it played the same song three times in an hour," she said. "I was like, 'Do I really have to hear this song again?' I didn't shoot the radio, but I wanted to. And also, I thought that was a good first line. The first line of a song should catch your ear immediately, and make you think, 'What is this going to be about?' "
Critics tend to share Lambert's frustrations with contemporary radio, and they also look to her as a glimmer of jagged hope amid playlists often slathered in suburban-sounding sameness. Rolling Stone's Will Hermes wrote of Lambert as "country's most refreshing act," and other reviews have run along similar lines.
"Critical acclaim is huge for me, and so far I've had great reviews," she said. "But the real test is whether the fans buy it.
Much of the praise centers around her songwriting, which grows sharper and more assured with each album, but Lambert also finds favor as a song-finder. Three of the four songs she covers on "Revolution" come from the pens of esteemed singer-songwriters rather than from Music Row publishing demos: Lambert chose to record Julie Miller's "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go," Fred Eaglesmith's "Time To Get A Gun" and John Prine's "That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round."
Such choices don't make Lambert's album innately superior to albums from artists who pick solely from the extensive, largely co-written catalogues of the major publishers, but they offer Lambert further chances to skirt the usual. And though she's covering some heavyweights of American song, Lambert doesn't seek to replicate their versions. The Prine cover features a bludgeoning wall of electric guitars. It's probably the first new-millennium contemporary country cut to owe more to country-punk band Jason and the Scorchers than to country-rock group the Eagles.
"There is no rule book," she said. "I think this record is something that's going to put me in a different place in my career. I don't know exactly what that's going to be. Maybe it's moving up a level, or more into a respected, singer-songwriter thing. But, bars or stadiums, we'll be playing somewhere. It just feels like things are changing, though.
"For me, this is the best time," she continued, growing a bit emotional. "It's huge, and it's overwhelming. But it's exciting, too."
With that, she walked back into rehearsal, to practice being herself.