Miranda Lambert – Nashville Lone Star
“I’ve never talked about this, ever,” Lambert confides. “I was a huge, huge fan of Steve Earle, and while I was writing for Kerosene I was listening to all the people I care about that way, trying to get inspired, and I really did just rip it off! That’s really what happened. I didn’t purposefully plagiarize his song — but unconsciously I copied it almost exactly. I guess I’d listened to it so much that I just kind of had it in there.
“So before it came out, they had a chance to hear it. We sent it to them, and said, ‘Hey, this little Texas girl ripped off Steve Earle; we want him to know about it, and we just want to split it down, or whatever’ — and they did.
“But actually, it’s not too disappointing to me. It looks pretty good when it says ‘Written by Miranda Lambert and Steve Earle’…and, hey, if you’re gonna cop, you might as well cop from somebody great.”
Her immersion in Earle’s music (as he was measurably immersed in the music of, say, the Beatles) was just one sign of Lambert’s growing interest in what she calls “the off-the-beaten path singer and songwriter stuff.” First she found Jack Ingram, who was frequently classified as alternative-country at the time; then she discovered Allison Moorer via the Horse Whisperer soundtrack.
“I was just coming into crafting songs, not just writing funny ones,” she recalls. “Hearing Allison’s songs drove it home for me. I felt, ‘That’s what I want to do: I want to write songs like that.’
“I listen to all kinds of things, but when I get into my songwriting mode, I put on Chris Knight, or Buddy & Julie Miller [Buddy appeared on Kerosene], or Emmylou Harris; that’s what I love,” she continues. “It has a different sound, and great lyrics about real-life situations — and that’s why I sort of went down that path.
“There’s been a way to be ‘mainstream’ but also a little left of center — and I think Dwight [Yoakam] is a good example of that, and the Dixie Chicks,” she reasons. “So I don’t know where I ‘fit in’ yet, what to call my music. Sometimes I just get mad and wonder, ‘Why do I have to call it anything?’ But I do think there’s a way to have the lyrics I love and the sound that I love, but also to play on the radio and headline stadiums one day.
“It’s a fine line….A lot of people are trying to find out how — and I think it’s changing. These songs are not formula — but a million people bought that last record.”
“Not formula” is a fair but inadequate description. “More Like Her”, a self-penned ballad on the new album, strikes a balance between the personal and the crafted and is all the stronger for it. And “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, all controversial aspects aside, shows polish and sophistication in its construction throughout, even while delivering revenge rock. That’s a wide realm in which to be confident and a good deal more than competent.
Lambert’s singing is flexible and polished enough to handle this self-made range, from the ballads to the rockers. It shows a bit of pop sheen, for sure, and her Texas accent is recognizable. But the first thing you notice is her clarity in presenting a story, keeping it easy to follow — which has been a hallmark of good country singers from the beginning. And Miranda has clear diction, whenever she wants to call on it, to match. (Not for nothing does she cite Emmylou Harris as one of the singers she particularly admires.)
She identifies Dolly Parton as “the one person I can think of” to pattern a career after. (“She’s a musician, she writes songs, she’s beautiful — and when she put a new video out, like last year’s, it’s still so Dolly — but still fits perfectly with what’s coming out now.”) Parton is also on the very short list of women who have won the CMA Entertainer of the Year award (Loretta Lynn, the Dixie Chicks and Reba McEntire are among the few others). Joining that list is one of Lambert’s long-term ambitions.
“I’m one of those people who’s already worked so hard, so why would I not want to be Entertainer of the Year and sell millions of albums and tour all over the world?” she asks. “Why would you not want that if you’ve already put in all that work and thought anyway?”
This directness about pursuing success may in part be a result of having grown up knowing real financial challenges. She is the daughter of Rick Lambert, a talented and ambitious country performer and songwriter who put aside his music for a very long time when economic realities waylaid him into work as a private investigator (with his wife) and policeman. He raised his daughter on Merle Haggard and Jerry Jeff Walker, and took her to shows that sparked musical dreams for her.
“I’ve been a country fan forever,” she affirms. “I went to Fan Fair four years in a row, just as a fan, from the nosebleed section first — the Dixie Chicks and LeAnn Rimes, I remember. I was kind of the same age as LeAnn Rimes when she first came out — I was 13 and she was 14 — so I loved her, and also watched her career, since she was young and was doing all this. And I went and saw the Dixie Chicks three times in concert, and I kind of dreamed about it from a distance: ‘Wow, I don’t think that could ever happen for me, but I want it to, you know?’
Her parents’ support in developing those dreams was essential, but not overbearing.
“I have a picture of me when I was only 3 years old, with a little plastic guitar, playing along with Dad,” she recalls. “And it’s funny, because Dad bought me a guitar for Christmas when I was 13, and I had no interest at all; I never picked it up. So when I went to him at 16 and said I wanted to enter a True Value Country Showdown I’d heard about on the radio, he was shocked. That was good about my parents; they never pushed me to do anything, and that kind of made me want to do it more.