“Four the Record” is a clever play on words. It is, after all, Miranda Lambert’s fourth album on the country/western scene, and it continues to show her progress in exploring the depth of profound lyrics and sound. Sure, maybe this lovely lady can truly do no wrong in the eyes (and ears) of this fan from the beginning; but I’m always surprised at her ability to craft a lesson (be it a moral?) subtly within each and every one of her songs. Without pomp and without circumstance, Lambert holds up life itself to her musical mirrors, and the result is one of most laid-back records about restrained emotions to come out of country music this year.
All Kinds of Kinds (5 out of 5): Living in this ever-crazier world, it’s clear that it takes ‘all kinds of kinds,’ and Lambert explores the idea through a song that sounds like it’d be at home as a child’s song. Perhaps that’s the best audience to learn this fundamental lesson of life: “Ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning it takes all kinds of kinds.”
Fine Tune (4 out of 5): A bit of an experimental track with her voice clearly filtered thru one of those ‘vox’ units so common to pop music these days, “Fine Tune” is a bit of a healthy musical mystery – somewhat reminiscent of ELO’s unique sound – played out with heavy bass, dreamy electric guitar, and a succinct snare drum. It quite probably sounds very little like anything she’s done before, and, on those rights, it’s a welcome diversion.
Fastest Girl in Town (5 out of 5): “You’ve got the bullets, I’ve got the gun, I got a hankerin’ for getting’ into something …” This is quintessential, Southern rockabilly, country-gone-bad-girl country from a gal who knows how to do it like so few else with her own special talents. “Ain’t you, baby? I told you I was crazy … I’ll be wearin’ nothing but a tattoo and a smile.” This is quite possibly Miranda’s theme song for life, if I’m not mistaken.
Safe (5 out of 5): A soft, light backbeat – like a solid soulmate – keeps ‘Safe’ moving leisurely, a meditation about the comfort of being in a perfect relationship. “I follow you just like a shadow only closer in; if you get tied & bound, I’ll find a way to free your hands; I’ll wash them clean of everything but me.” Wonderful. There’s no doubt that having a love in her life makes songs like this easier to write than they were before. A musical valentine, if there ever were one.
Mama’s Broken Heart (4 out of 5): Country music has always staked out solid territory about broken hearts, and ‘Mama’s Broken Heart’ slides comfortably through lands already explored many times, even by Lambert herself. “I’ve known the pain at the expense of my liver.” Perhaps the only thing that elevates the song above the norm is that, under her watchful lyrics, she manages to wring new life by comparing her love-loss to love-loss of older, perhaps wiser women. “This ain’t your mama’s broken heart.”
Dear Diamond (4.5 out of 5): It’s the song of a woman confessing her infidelity to the ring on her finger. “You cost more than he wanted to lose; and with this ring I said I do; I promise to never do what I’ve done; I’ve lied to someone, dear diamond.” It’s another ‘traditionalist’ ballad – exploring grounds not uncommon to country & western music – and Lambert has a talent of handling these without becoming trite or maudlin.
Same Ol’ You (4.5 out of 5): It’s amazing how big a girl can sound while basically strumming a guitar. Lambert’s a master of her instruments. “This time I’ve done some thinking, and I think I’m done with you ‘cause until I get to leavin’ it’s just the same ol’ me, too.” This is the kind of song made famous by the likes of such legends as Patsy Cline and Loretta Lynn. Enjoy country mastery at its finest simplicity.
Baggage Claim (5 out of 5): Sexy & hip (just like Miranda Lambert!), ‘Baggage Claim’ is a country swagger – with a bit of Motown thrown in for good measure – from one girl to the (male) drama queen of her life. “Behind every woman scorned is a man who made her that way.” The song is filled with entirely quotable lyrics any girl could use for good measure in any verbal throwdown with the man in her life.
Easy Living (5 out of 5): Bluesy & slim, ‘Easy Living’ sounds like a throwback to a song that could’ve been sung by a torch singer in some 1930’s backroom gin joint. It’s even backed occasionally by what sounds like a static old radio broadcast. “What’s a little rain to a high-ridin’ rebel or two? ‘Cause it’s easy livin’ lovin’ you.” Once the whistling comes up, you’ll find yourself head-bobbing to even Miranda’s devilish giggle. This might be my favorite track here. Wonderful.
Over You (5 out of 5): Sometimes bigger is smaller, and Lambert – like no one else in country today – knows how to dial sound back, bringing out the natural, easy appeal of the human voice; that’s what’s most needed in songs of genuine heartfelt loss like ‘Over You.’ Where other performers may’ve gone louder, she brings it back to what matters most – one song singing to another. Listen for the solo backed by just a guitar late in the song – it’ll give you chills. It’s that good. “Your favorite records make me feel better because you sang along with every song.” It’s moments like this that she celebrates in her music, and that makes her one of the best lyricists penning country today.
Look at Miss Ohio (2.5 out of 5): Everyone suffers moments of weakness that end up – by accident or design – playing out in spectacles big and small. “I wanna do right, but not right now.” The music all sounds a bit too reflective for its own goods, and that could be because Lambert’s tread this all-too-familiar territory at much greater reward even on this album. It’s a minor, forgivable weakness on an album filled with much stronger moments. It does sport some wonderfully angelic voices on the refrain, but, otherwise, I found it forgettable.
Better in the Long Run (4 out of 5): A duet with her husband (Blake Shelton), Lambert sings a ballad of ‘failed love’ that coulda/shoulda/woulda worked out if both had found themselves instead of looking for one another. “I’m just too selfish I guess; I know you’re tired and restless; it’s no surprise we’ve come undone; but I cannot love you just because you say it’s better in the long run.” Tim McGraw and Faith Hill covered similar territory in their early duets as well. Nice – not stellar – but solid.
Nobody’s Fool (5 out of 5): A country(ish) anthem for the album if there ever was one, ‘Nobody’s Fool’ will have you pounding your foot and wagging your head along with the beat and driving rock(ish) guitar. “All my friends say ‘hey don’t you know him at all?’ and I try to play it all cool; when they ask I’ll just say that he’s nobody, and me? Well, I’m nobody’s fool.” It hints of an Irish rocker to those of us who’ve listened to world music (think some of the work done by The Coors), and that’s a welcome influence here. Don’t miss out on love when you see it comin’ or you’ll end up as nobody’s fool but your own.
Oklahoma Sky (5 out of 5): ‘Oklahoma Sky’ stands for a metaphor about the perfect time, the perfect place that exists in all of our lives. It’s the moment when we find out who we are, what we want, what we stand for, what we always wanted. “With the speed of sound, I’m homeward bound …” A wonderfully, soft tune that’s lush with tugs on one’s heartstrings, ‘Oklahoma Sky’ needs to be listened to in order to be fully appreciated. No words – certainly none I can write – really do it justice. It’s a personal musical discovery more than it is anything else, mesmerizing in that secret way only life can be.
For the record (pun intended), there’s far more to celebrate here than any review can ever successfully convey, and the best advice I’ve ever given to anyone is “listen for yourself, and I think you’ll find something to like.” Lambert stealthily straddles a wealth of musical influences here, but, as I’ve always tried to convey, it’s her ability to weave romantic lyrics into the sounds that elevate her to the top of the country music scene. Nobody – and I mean nobody – writes lyrics like Miranda today. Nobody. She embraces her inner country girl and lets it all hang out – the good, the bad, the ugly, the brash, the young, the wise, the innocent, the loved, the lost, the clumsy, and the swagger – in a way that sets her apart from the competition. It’s a sound as much unique to all of country music as it is her own, and she deserves every accolade I’ve tried to convey here.
Perhaps the biggest success of ‘Four the Record’ is that Miranda leaves her audience exactly where she wants it: always wanting more.
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