After winning big at the 2011 ACM Awards for her last album, Miranda Lambert returns with Four the Record. It's likely to score her many more accolades. It's a stylistically diverse collection of songs that, while trying to appeal to everyone, avoids the country-pop hubris of, say, Taylor Swift.
"All Kinds of Kinds"
The introspective "All Kinds of Kinds" starts the album off on a nicely twangy note, detailing a young singer's early years of trying to make it -- and how she learned that "To keep the world spinning / It takes all kind of kinds." A Hallmark greeting card, yes, but the dobro frailing and inflated bass-lines help the sentiment ring true.
"Fine Tune" is a strutting rock effort, strung together by arch guitar riffs and processed vocals that match the singer's growling lyrics about what turns her (and her car) on.
As befits a woman who made a hit out of "Gunpowder & Lead," the pistol metaphors come out in "Fastest Girl in Town." Lambert co-wrote the song with her Pistol Annies cohort Angaleena Presley, and once again she plays the willful woman who makes it difficult for the men to keep up.
Bad Girls and Bad Guys
Indeed, Four the Record wouldn't be a Miranda Lambert album without plenty of women who do things their own way. It's become as much her signature as suffering cheating husbands was Loretta Lynn's.
The song "Dear Diamond" is the record's standout track -- a brokenhearted classic about a bride who carries a painful secret with her to the altar. It's one I could see turning into a standard.
"Same Ol You" is a more traditional-minded country number, with more matrimonial blues. But this time it's the fault of the man, whose lowdown ways are giving his bride-to-be second thoughts. "Baggage Claim," whose infectious grooves made it an easy choice for the album's first single, is another successful song with a guy to blame.
Pop-Country Love Ballads
Let me be honest: I'm not the ideal audience for 99 percent of contemporary-country love ballads. If there's a trite phrase (when isn't there?), a fake emotion (ditto), and a pleading chorus (it's regulation), the overdose of saccharine sentiment is likely to send me into insulin shock.
Thus, "Over You" is the song on Four the Record I am predetermined to hate. Co-written with Lambert's husband, CMT thoroughbred Blake Shelton, the tune pushes all of my wrong buttons. Representative lyric: "You went away / How dare you / I miss you."
That said, Lambert's sincere delivery and the tasteful (as these things go) musical backing do a lot to make the song a less-than-lethal affair. As backhanded compliments go, this isn't a negligible concession for a grouch like me to make, Ms. Lambert, I assure you.
"Safe," her reverb-laden love-letter to Shelton, also won me over (slightly!) with aw-shucks lyrics like "Just like the leather on my saddle / We get prettier with time." Sniff.
The lovebirds get together for "Better in the Long Run," the requisite duet. The surprise: It describes a relationship that's gone way past its sell-by date. "Cheap red wine straight out of a coffee cup," Lambert sings. "One more down to drink you off my mind." These are lines I can heartily and curmudgeonly endorse.
With its droning guitars and rumbling percussion, "Oklahoma Sky" makes a nice soft landing for the record.
Four the Record is a polished effort from a country singer who shows she's deserving of all the honors she's gotten, and is sure to receive.
Track list for Four the Record
1. "All Kinds of Kinds"
2. "Fine Tune"
3. "Fastest Girl in Town"
5. "Mama's Broken Heart"
6. "Dear Diamond"
7. "Same Old You"
8. "Baggage Claim"
9. "Easy Living"
10. "Over You"
11. "Look at Miss Ohio"
12. "Better in the Long Run" (featuring Blake Shelton)
13. "Nobody's Fool"
14. "Oklahoma Sky"
15. "Hurts to Think" (bonus track)
Best Songs on Four the Record
- "Baggage Claim"
- "Dear Diamond"
- "Easy Living"
- "Fastest Girl in Town"
- "Fine Tune"