Miranda Lambert – Nashville Lone Star
There are some little ironies there. After spending the better part of four years in Nashville, Lambert happens to be speaking from the house she occupies today, right on her parents’ property near Lindale, Texas. That’s the town where she spent much of her time growing up (population 4,000 now, 2,500 then), about 90 miles east of Dallas via Interstate 20. And the first official, label-selected single from her sophomore disc Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (released May 1 on Sony) happens to be “Famous In A Small Town”, a midtempo rocker co-written with her occasional collaborator and onetime “Nashville Star” TV competition Travis Howard. It details life for celebrities, Lindale style: The new high school cheerleader or the first one to take down a buck in deer season gets as much notice as a singer working toward country music stardom. And there she is.
“Well, I was never one of those people that was like, ‘I’m gettin’ out of this town,'” she laughs. “I wanted to get out — but I wanted to come back.”
And it’s not like the single-making requirement of major-label stardom has ceased to be an issue: “What the heck is a single?” she can still ask, with some evident frustration. She’s had several by now — “Kerosene”, which debuted at #1 on the country charts, “New Strings”, and “Me And Charlie Talkin'” — that by some measures, if not necessarily country radio’s, had substantial impact.
More recently there was a semi-official single, the memorable title song on the new disc (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) — an incendiary, full-tilt revenge rocker stomp in which a pistol-packin’ mama challenges the new girl on her ex’s arm, breaking things up in a pool hall/bar in the process. Lambert introduced it nationally during last fall’s Country Music Association Awards, where she was up for the best new artist “Horizon” award for a second time (Carrie Underwood won).
As it turned out, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” didn’t exactly become a radio single. “We decided we’d probably put this out as a single,” she explains, “but it was just put up as a quote-unquote ‘follow-up to the performance on the CMA.’ That’s confusing to me! I think the label’s even confused about it, because people got scared of it. It’s not just easy to listen to; it’s controversial. It says I’m a crazy ex-girlfriend! To me, my fans want that, the people that buy my records, the ones I’m writing to, the people I’m playing to every night….Some of my other songs have been controversial, had cuss words in them and, all right — either you’re going to put them on the radio or you’re not.”
It’s necessary to be aware, at this point, that her previous hit “Kerosene” (no relation at all to the classic Bottle Rockets song), and especially the eye-stopping, attention-grabbing video connected to it — which featured Lambert basically blowing up stuff — was itself colorfully incendiary. And that the new disc opens with “Gunpowder & Lead”, in which an abused woman loads up while waiting for her man’s return. “I’m going to show him what little girls of made of,” she sings with chilling exuberance.
The semi-sidelined “Crazy” single might, to some, have indicated potentially dangerous-to-handle explosive proclivities — in the lyrics, at least — of a variety not seen on country charts since the early days of tough but sweet rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson. Wanda, you may recall, was threatening to “blow her top” like Mount Fujiyama. Martina McBride had a righteously, rightly revengeful woman burn down a house in her huge hit “Independence Day” — yet the firebug was not the storyteller, Martina, but her fictional mother. In Miranda’s songs, like Wanda’s, the incendiary girl is always the one telling the story.
And so there’s a lingering question: Is that explosive image and persona Lambert — at all?
“Well…to an extent,” she admits, just a little ruefully. “For one thing, I’m from Texas and girls from Texas have a little attitude anyway; people know that! Yes, there is that ‘I won’t take anybody’s crap’ part of me — but there are also songs like ‘More Like Her’ on this new record, and ‘Desperation’ — that’s a vulnerable 23 year-old girl’s side…
“It’s not all about gunpowder and lead, and if people are interested enough, they’ll dive into those songs, and find an artist with all kinds of emotions. I don’t want people to always put me in the category, ‘She’s mean; she’s fiery! Don’t mess with her!’ Anyway, songs, to me, are stories. I don’t, obviously, live everything I sing about, or write about.”
Now, Lambert did recently pass the test for a concealed handgun license, though that’s not particularly remarkable where she comes from. It’s also true that her live performance of “Kerosene” on the 2005 CMA Awards show, complete with sizzling pyrotechnic explosions, stuck in the industry’s consciousness as a defining moment — when they said, as she puts it, “this girl is a performer, not just a singer-songwriter.” The moment was also a personal milestone for Lambert; the acts she’d grown up collecting autographs from were out there in the audience, watching.
“That’s a moment where it hits you,” she recalls, “that, holy crap, you’re part of it now. This is real. You’re not just watching on TV.”
The song “Kerosene” also led to a remote encounter with one of Lambert’s longtime heroes, Steve Earle, an encounter not without ironies of its own. Listeners started to point out, rightly enough, that the song had strong similarities to Earle’s rocker “I Feel Alright”, right down to the rhythmic “Huhs.” Today, they share credit on the song (though initial pressings of the Kerosene CD credited Lambert as the song’s sole author).