Tag Archives: Miranda Lambert

Sound ‘Round: Miranda Lambert / John Prine

Couples counseling, country style

Miranda Lambert – The Weight of These Wings (RCA Nashville)

miranda-lambert-the-weight-of-these-wingsIf anyone was destined to make a double album about the drudgery of divorce, it’s Ms. Kerosene. Lambert’s best material gleefully avenges men who have wronged her through abuse (“Gunpowder and Lead”) or philandering (“Baggage Claim”). These 24 songs centered on annulment are in her wheelhouse, but evening the score ain’t the point. Instead, she spends 90 minutes reconciling the fall out. She’s beholden to solid songwriting over country tropes, hence namedropping Uncle Willie — a songmaster supreme — on “Highway Vagabond,” wherein an endless highway is an endless retreat from the world. The escape vehicle isn’t a coach, rather a covered wagon provided by Danny O’Keefe. And it’s not a Hollywood therapist that improves her disposition but a pair of pink sunglasses that cost $9.99 and make the Monday drive of shame a little more bearable. There’s less fury to her feminism, but notice “Tomboy,” in which a would-be southern belle gets along just fine with dirty nails and worn jeans. Notice too that the lust-as-love songs find Lambert searching for a man on her own terms. There’s a 60-minute album for the ages lurking beneath the sheer volume of the material, but with the smarts and ambition to fill an arena, she rolls on as long as she damn well pleases. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “We Should Be Friends” / “Vice” / “Tomboy”

John Prine – For Better, Or Worse (Oh Boy)

john-prine-for-better-or-worsePrine works in humor the way Luke Bryan works in beer bongs. But a two-year duel with cancer muted his jocular ways and shrunk his voice to a gruff baritone. He’s a weathered 70 and still carries a tune, but his output has slowed to the point of releasing just one batch of originals this millennium — 2005’s Fair & Square. This is a duets record composed of covers, a two-pronged tactic that honors the greats and showcases contemporaries. Every guest is a woman from across the country spectrum. Miranda Lambert — who has covered Prine in studio and on stage — pays him back on the Hank Williams number, and Alison Krauss helps him fall in love again on a German ballad. The quivering soprano of Iris DeMent brings the laughs and the coffee shop voice of Kacey Musgraves is too cute to make the divorce song believable. There’s Opry glitz aplenty, but it’s the cameo from wife Fiona that endears most. She’s the mother of his three children, the one who makes life worth living, the one he tenderly calls, “My Happiness.” Call it corny if you want. Me, I call it inspiring. We all should strive to be so satisfied this late in the game. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “My Happiness” / “Color of the Blues” / “Cold, Cold Heart”

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Sound ‘Round: Miranda Lambert / EMA

What doesn’t kill them only makes them blonder

Miranda Lambert – Platinum (RCA Nashville)

Miranda Lambert - PlatinumEvery bit the feminist-as-wife doctrine Beyoncé is, but every bit in love with the kind of economical song structure Beyoncé averted, her fifth album is a brilliant culmination. Bestowed with an audacious title which alludes to superstardom and salon appointments, no Nashville act has been this perceptive, funny and sanguine since Brad Paisley waxed poetic about Obama. But where Paisley occasionally succumbs to the temptations of keg stands and John Deere, Lambert is solely focused on female empowerment, self-image woes and equal say in relationships. She’s explored such themes previously throughout her discography, but she’s no longer brandishing a shotgun to defend herself. Instead, she’s all sass and smarts: eviscerating society’s standards of femininity, telling lustful boys to keep their hands off, boozing with Carrie Underwood, lamenting teen pregnancy and parodying the reckless myopia of youth. Her sharpest moments of wit concern her marriage to Blake Shelton, such as the open letter to Mrs. Elvis Presley. “You and me share a unique position / Married to a man who’s married to attention,” she sings. Hubby is addressed once more, albeit more directly, on a line which meshes Lambert’s every-woman charm with her gunpowder and lead tenacity. “I love my apron, but I ain’t yo mama!” A perfect summation. GRADE: A+

Key Tracks: Bathroom Sink” / “Platinum” / “Priscilla

EMA – The Future’s Void (Matador)

EMA - the future's voidShe was irksome three years ago when posing as a martyr for Midwestern apathy – hating your South Dakota birthplace doesn’t make you an individual. She’s still irksome on this busier, noisier follow-up which takes exception with the blogosphere-as-paparazzi and a culture overrun with selfies – a moral imperative Instagram is not. Nevertheless, her musical growth is impressive. Gone are the rudimentary trappings of her once-confessional austerity. Here, she flexes her voice in ways tranquil and throaty, throwing it with abandon against buzz saw guitars and synths bubbly, fussy and exact. Though her subject matter is suspect, the songwriting has turned from scattershot and undeveloped to terse and taut. Her worthiest line comes on her worthiest song – this one about a boy in sheep’s clothing: “He’s gonna act just like a feminist / but leave it up for you to prove.” That low-life lives in the big bad city. Creepers creep everywhere, not just South Dakota. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: So Blonde”/ “Cthulu” / “Satellites

Sound ‘Round: Pistol Annies / Jonny Fritz

Damn right they’re dysfunctional. 

Pistol Annies – Annie Up (RCA)

pistol annies - annie upThe hell-raising humor and wit which made their whiskey-soaked debut so irresistible is diminished on this follow-up, which is lengthier, less instantaneous and too reliant on ballads that turn monochrome. Softening their shotgun potency and playing up their feminine vulnerability, they go about dealing with familiar vices – drugs, depression, and deadbeat men, – in a more methodical manner. Not to take away from the bummer tunes – Angelina Presley’s “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” is the best vanity protest since Lady Gaga went on about her hair – but I prefer them vivacious, feisty and liquored and/or stoned, mostly because that’s where the jokes come from. See the lead single full of rehab, gospel tunes, vodka, propaganda, paranoia, weed, familial backstabbing and egg nog.  GRADE: A

Key Tracks: Hush Hush” / “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” / “Don’t Talk About Him, Tina

Jonny Fritz – Dad Country (ATO)

jonny fritz - dad countryA face made for radio coupled with a thin, unassuming voice far too ordinary to endure on its lonesome; this Brooklyn native undercuts his genetic shortcomings with humor, brevity and a cigarette carton’s worth of melody. A curmudgeon who hangs with blood sucking social climbers and finicky friends to boost his self-esteem, he wakes up hungover next to married women, contemplates suicide for scientific purposes and always forgets to leave the trash out. No wonder everyone is uneasy when he shows up for a family birthday party despite the hell he put up with to get there. Always on the short end of the stick, he’s also the master of his own destiny. As he says on “Holy Water” when he knocks up a lady I’m inclined to characterize as an unfortunate soul, “I dare you come and tell me that I’m really doing something wrong.” GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Ain’t It Your Birthday” / “Holy Water” / “Goodbye Summer