Four The Record, For The Record
The cover of Miranda Lambert’s newest album, Four The Record, has our girl standing in a Western-themed dress next to a burning convertible. Has she set the car on fire? Has it spontaneously combusted from the proximity to country’s newest star? Or is the vehicle just a metaphor for the competition?
One of the indications that this Lambert is a rocket going from strength to strength can be seen here: every single track is a winner. This is not unusual on a Lambert record, but look who she now has the clout to hitch to her white-hot tail — the liner notes catalogue a who’s-who of the finest songwriters, instrumentalists and singers the industry has to offer. Apart from her hubby Blake Shelton, she gets assists from Patty Loveless, the Little Big Town gals Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Schlapman, Allison Moorer, Brandi Carlile and Sarah Buxton on vocals, Steve Winwood and Randy Scruggs, and the songwriting magic of Chris Stapleton, Charles Kelley, Shane McAnally, and her Pistol Annies cohorts, Angaleena Presly and Ashley Monroe, to name a few. The brilliant part is that you’d never know any of it unless you read the liner notes; it’s Lambert’s voice you hear first and foremost, and even though each song has a different musical style, each one sounds distinctly like a Lambert song.
The one exception to the general feel of the album is the second track, “Fine Tune,” a saucy, sexy conceit that pretends Lambert is a car that needs tuning up by the man who shows up with a “master key.” It’s been treated to a load of distortion and slowed to molasses, all the better to make that metaphor play out and to throw shade on lines like “You started tweaking on a little knob / That I didn’t even know was there.” Oh really, you coy minx, you. The Inky Jukebox can imagine that because of the electronic noise, some folks might object to this track, but let it be said: it’s the best of the bunch (and the bunch sits on a higher branch than most) precisely because it dares to be different, and is unforgettable.
When it comes to Lambert’s musical direction, the album keeps close to her usual themes while reaching out to pick up traditional formats along the way. Some of these tunes are full-on honky tonks; some rock; some bluegrass; some sound like 1950s throwbacks. The guts Lambert showed when signing for her first record deal, where she told the company boss the deal was off unless she could record what she wanted is on full display here, and it’s not only all the awards and honors she’s gained since then that have confirmed her conviction; it’s that she can produce a record like this. She’s hauled away a ton of trophies in the last few years, and she deserves them.
This year also marks her well-publicized marriage to Blake Shelton, who has also had a big year professionally. Their duet, “Better In The Long Run,” is a powerhouse that sounds like it’s being sung by two people in love, which is a nice touch. Here they are singing a duet off Shelton's album, "Draggin' The River."
A note about Miranda’s wardrobe. A stylist is clearly dressing her in bandage-type gowns which serve to hold everything in with a smooth profile while disguising the mechanics involved (elastic). The sad truth about such garments is that they only really work to make slim women look slimmer; when worn by a more full-figured gal, they tend to emphasize, rather than hide the truth. The best outfit Miranda sports in the album pictures is the tank-top / belt / giant skirt / cowboy boots combo, which not only suits her figure but is sexier than all the designer duds she’s ever been poured into. It also describes who she is (at least, who her songs purport her to be): a down-home country girl at heart, who likes to dress up on occasion like a glamorpuss. I believe her in boots and a tank far more than the sparkly plunge-top things that have become her red carpet wear.
It’s a pity that Miranda Lambert is a country music star. Because she’s a star, period. Twang be damned: this is America y’all. This album is one of the best of the year, in any genre.