Miranda Lambert’s fourth album, Four The Record, made history when it debuted atop Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart in 2011, making her the first country artist in the 47-year history of the chart to have each of her first four albums debut at No. 1. And it’s appropriate, perhaps, that its lead single was titled “Baggage Claim,” because Lambert carries quite the suitcase of honors.
She is country’s reigning female vocalist of the year, as bestowed by both the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music (three times each). She’s won the prized album of the year trophy from both organizations as well – from the ACMs for her second record, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; from the CMAs and ACMs for her third, Revolution; and from the ACMs again for Four The Record, making her the first female artist ever to win that honor for three consecutive releases. She took home the Best Female Country Vocal Performance trophy from the 2011 Grammy Awards (for “The House That Built Me”), and, as if a stellar solo career wasn’t enough, Lambert, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe topped the country album chart in 2011 with Hell on Heels, the acclaimed debut album from the sassy trio, Pistol Annies. Their sophomore album "Annie Up" will be out on May 7th.
Most importantly, whether being named one of People’s Most Beautiful People or winning Song of the Year honors from her peers for a heartfelt track like Four The Record’s “Over You” – written with country superstar Blake Shelton, who just happens to be her husband – Lambert has cemented her reputation as an artist whose work is eagerly embraced by audiences and critics alike.
As current single “Mama’s Broken Heart” burns a kerosene-fueled trail up the charts, it’s worth reflecting on Lambert’s whirlwind past few years, which saw her profile skyrocket from rebel underdog to country icon whose fans simply call her "'Ran." Prior to Revolution, she’d never even had a Top 5 single, but her cutting-edge qualities earned her a rapid fan-base and made her an award-show queen and press darling. But in 2010, she finally scored her–first # 1 single with “”White Liar,” and then quickly followed with the award winning “The House That Built Me” and “Heart Like Mine.”
By the release of Four The Record – whose first single, “Baggage Claim,” hit No. 3, her highest-charting lead single yet – there was no uncertainty left. “I’d never had an album release coincide with a hit, ever,” Lambert points out. “Revolution came out on ‘Dead Flowers,’ a single that died in the 30s. So I’m excited and so thankful. I'm a little edgy. But I’ve played so many tours and been on the road so much, I feel like people get me. Or else they think, ‘She’s not going away, so we might as well just start liking it,’” she laughs.
Lambert is being humble: Four The Record won raves from outlets ranging from Rolling Stone to American Songwriter, and her headlining ‘On Fire’ tour played to more than a million fans in 2012. This is no war of attrition; it’s more likely that, as with any groundbreaking artist, it simply took a while for America to catch up with the trail she was blazing.
The fascination began in earnest when she was a humble yet feisty runner-up on Nashville Star in 2003, standing out as the most independent and least likely of all reality-show contestants. Sony Nashville quickly signed her with the understanding that, even though she was still a teen, she had the moxie and know-how to write many of her own songs and pick her own team, like co-producer and fellow Texan Frank Liddell. Reflective singles like “Famous in a Small Town” proved her wise beyond her tender years, and rowdy ones like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” proved her bold beyond all expectations of just how fresh a country freshman should be. Her tough Texas upbringing, her tendency to use a shotgun for a mic stand, those pistol tattoos – Nashville had never seen anything like her before.
“My sole mission with the Revolution album was to go ‘Hey, get me out of this corner you’re pushing me in,” Lambert says of her truly revelatory third album. “I’m not just ‘Kerosene’ and ‘Gunpowder & Lead’ and all that.’ I mean, that’s part of me, but I have so much more to say, and I definitely think I’ve been able to do that.” It's worth noting that it was two of that album’s most subdued and sensitive songs, “The House That Built Me” and “Heart Like Mine,” which took her to the top of the country charts (in the case of “House," for four straight weeks).
When it came time to record Four the Record, the methodology wasn’t much different. As before, Lambert did a lot of the writing herself or in tandem with friends, while also picking selections from Music Row’s favorite tunesmiths (including Chris Stapleton and Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley) and the leading lights of alt-country (this time, Gillian Welch and Allison Moorer). But while Revolution was recorded in two sessions of a week or less, the recording of Four the Record was even more compact, taking a mere five days from start to finish. “If everybody can get in one vibe and stay there the whole week, it makes it sound like an album, instead of chopped up,” Lambert maintains. It didn’t hurt that the vast majority of musicians had worked on her previous three albums, too, as had trusted co-producer Liddell. The result is a 14-song set that’s epic in its range of musical styles, including the varied expressiveness in Lambert’s unmistakable voice. She’s clearly in a class with the slim handful of superstar “album artists” whose every full-length release is anxiously anticipated as an event that’s much more than just the sum of its singles.
And if fans listen to “Over You” – which Lambert recently performed on the 2013 Grammy telecast, bringing the crowd to its feet – and detect a little bit of what might be called “maturity,” well, Lambert’s probably just as surprised as you are. “I wrote that song with Blake, just us two,” said Lambert of the 2012 CMA Song of the Year award winning song. “It’s one of the most emotional songs that I’ve ever recorded or written. We were talking about his [late] brother one night, and Blake was playing this real pretty melody, and we started writing this song. I said, ‘You went away’, and Blake said, ‘How dare you,' and we both started crying. I’d never cried writing a song before, and I probably won’t ever again. It was just a really intense moment between Blake and me as a couple, but also as artists. It was going to be kind of a love-gone-bad song, because that’s what I usually write about – but to be that close and write a song about something that important in his life was really emotional.”
But don’t fret – our Miranda hasn’t gone soft. After all, she’s on the road in 2013 with old friend Dierks Bentley for a tour called "Locked & Reloaded," and she promises it will be a run of “epic badassery." Likewise, current single “Mama’s Broken Heart” returns to the feisty, stereotype-torching chick we’ve all come to know and love. Wish I could be just a little less dramatic, she sings, Like a Kennedy when Camelot went down in flames / Leave it to me to be holdin' the matches / When the fire trucks show up and there’s nobody else to blame.
For the record, we’d expect no less.