Miranda Lambert’s “Four The Record” is probably the most anticipated album of the year. Fans and critics everywhere are wondering how she could follow-up “Revolution,” the album that made her the superstar she is in country music. While getting married to Blake Shelton may have calmed her down, Miranda successfully put together an album different than “Revolution” that proves why she’s such a force in country music today. As Loretta Lynn put it “as long as Miranda’s singing, country music will be great.”
Miranda put together an album showing her growth as a songwriter and a person, but still having that signature bite. “Fastest Girl In Town,” “Baggage Claim,” “Nobody’s Fool” and “Mama’s Broken Heart” prove she can still rock just as hard as any rock band out there today; while “Safe,” “Over You,” and “Dear Diamond” prove that even tough as she is, she can still be vulnerable. She isn’t coming out guns blazing trying to prove something like she did with “Kerosene” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” but you still know not to mess with the fiery Texan.
The biggest questions before the album release were if Miranda could release two high quality albums in one year, (The Pistol Annies released “Hell On Heels” in August), and if she could follow-up “Revolution” with something even greater. Looks like the pressure was a good thing for Miranda: the album may be the best of 2011.
The album opens up with the catchy “All Kinds Of Kinds,” a song co-written by Philip Coleman and Don Henry. Miranda sings about how the world needs all kinds of people to work. It’s actually a pretty funny song when you listen to it, with one of my favorite lines being: “When I stood up in geometry and everybody stared at me / And I tossed my test into the trash.” The song focuses on why being different can be beautiful without being cheesy. Some of the examples are a congressman who cross-dresses on Friday nights, circus acts that fall in love, and Miranda writing her number on the population sign in her home-town.
“Fine Tune” was a song I wasn’t too sure about when the 30 second previews came up on Amazon. The entire song is highly autotuned with Miranda’s voice completely unrecognizable: you can’t even hear her twang! It’s not the direction I want country music to go, but I appreciate Miranda experimenting with her sound. I get the joke of the song, that it needs some “fine tuning” (get it?). The lyrics for the song are great, written by Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird, so I consider this to be a hot mess of a song. Maybe it will catch on the more I listen to it, but I just find this song getting too close to pop music fads for my taste. The lyrics are definitely the sexiest she’s ever sung: “Kissing on my wrist all the way to my neck / Running your fingers through my hair / I felt like I was dizzy and I didn’t think I could drive.”
“Fastest Girl In Town” is one of the rockier songs on the album. Miranda co-wrote this one with fellow Pistol Annie Angaleena Presley. It’s the familiar tricky, tough Miranda where if you don’t watch your back you’ll get what’s coming to you. She doesn’t give a damn about her reputation and would rather give people something to talk about than worrying about what people think. The song ends with Miranda turning on her charm with the police that come to arrest her and her partner, but she puts on the charm and ends up getting out of jail while her significant other is locked up. It’s her version of Bonnie and Clyde.
“Safe” is the song Miranda wrote on her own about her husband, Blake Shelton. It was the final preview song that fans were able to hear before the album’s release next week. It’s a pretty song that she wrote on her own on Blake’s bus, and another Miranda Lambert-style love song: where she doesn’t go right out saying she’s in love with him, but that she’d keep him safe. Miranda shows off her growth as a songwriter in this song, with one of my favorite lines being the opening: “Just like the fringe on my boots / You move with every step I take / You walk in front of me to make sure / That I don’t fall and break my own heart.” I’d love to see this get the chance to be a single from the record down the line.
“Mama’s Broken Heart” is one of the classic Miranda rock songs on the record. She covered a Kasey Musgraves song, originally co-written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kasey. It’s the loudest, rockiest song on the album where she lets loose. The song focuses on Miranda losing control of herself after a breakup – having a rebound, going on drinking binges, cutting her own hair, and her mother’s disapproval of it all. The song proves that even if marriage has calmed down the singer, she still isn’t afraid to rock out. It’s one of my favorite on the album, and I see it being released as a way to prove that Miranda is still the same Miranda country fans have gotten to know from her three previous albums.
“Dear Diamond” is the prettiest song on the album, another one Miranda wrote all on her own. Backed by Patty Loveless, she sings to her diamond ring about cheating on her husband but deciding its best to keep it a secret from him so he won’t be hurt. It’s a song with a little less production than the rest on the album, but just enough to make it special.
“Same Old You” is one of my favorites from “Four The Record,” and should easily become one of the fan favorites. It has a sound that’s a throwback to classic country, with the bitter side of Miranda having enough of her lover’s habits. Originally a Brandi Carlile song, it’s a toe tapper with the Loretta Lynn influence on her performance in this song. I hope this gets performed live during her “On Fire” tour next year. While it might not be the best choice for a single, it’s one of the songs you could imagine being played at the Grand Ole Opry.
”Baggage Claim” was the first single released off of “Four The Record” and was the perfect choice. It’s still the bitter, angry Miranda that the world was introduced to, but mellowed out just a little. The song, co-written by Miranda with Luke Laird and Natalie Hemby, flew up the charts and is in position to potentially be a number one song on the album’s release. Josh Kelley lends his voice to the track.
“Easy Living” is a song that could have easily fit in on the Pistol Annies album - but that’s not saying that it’s not good; it’s fantastic. Miranda once again proves that you don’t have to be pop to be popular in country. It has an interesting production, with news on in the background of the song. Miranda is pure country, and this song helps show off how country her voice really is. Yes, Miranda Lambert does have more than one love song on the album, but this one is a throwback to something you would hear on a classic country station.
“Over You” is my choice for the second single from the album. A song co-written by Miranda and her husband Blake Shelton, it’s the most personal song on the album. The pair wrote it together thinking about Blake’s older brother who tragically passed away after being hit by a drunk driver when Blake was in his early teens. Blake gave the song to Miranda to record since he didn’t think he could perform it every night. It’s the most emotional song on the album, which could easily become Miranda’s second “House That Built Me,” (which was also given to her by her husband). It’ll be interesting to see if Miranda can perform this one live with the story behind the song. It’s the most powerful on the album.
“Look At Miss Ohio” is my personal favorite on the record. Miranda covered the Gillian Welch song, but still managed to make it her own. Gillian co-wrote this one with David Rawlings, and it fits Miranda’s voice like a glove. It reminds me a lot of “Dead Flowers” mixed with “Virginia Bluebell” from her last record. It’s a gorgeous song that I’d love to see released as third or fourth single off this album. She made it her own while still staying close to the original version of the tune.
“Better In The Long Run” might just be the best duet Blake and Miranda have ever recorded together. It’s not an emotional track like Blake’s “Red River Blue,” but both their vocals show off their new confidence in their careers, and with each other. It might be the first real duet the couple will release to radio. It’s one of the stronger tracks on the album, co-written by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe, and Gordie Sampson. You can’t deny the chemistry between the two of them on the song, with both the Sheltons singing about breaking up but not being able to get over it. I can see them debuting it as a single at one of the award shows next year. (Anyone up for a Blake & Miranda “Better In The Long Run” tour together?)
“Nobody’s Fool” is a song written solely by Chris Stapleton. It’s a little bit of a rocker, but a few steps below most of the rock anthems from “Revolution.” Miranda sings about frequenting a bar that her ex goes to, and she pretends she doesn’t know him, that he’s a nobody, but she’s really nobody’s fool. She tries to play off not knowing who he is, but it kills her to see him leave with a different woman from the bar. The song does have a pretty neat guitar solo, just to give it that Miranda-edge.
“Oklahoma Sky” is another love song about Blake, but this time it was written just by Miranda’s friend Allison Moorer. Miranda might have been born a red dirt girl, but she’s happy at home in Oklahoma with the man she loves. It’s a more serious, and sweet, love ballad than “Makin’ Plans” or “Love Song” from her last effort. It’s a beautiful tribute to her marriage, and her new home in Tishomingo, Oklahoma. “There ain’t no goodbye with your hand in mine / Meet me underneath the Oklahoma sky.”
Miranda Lambert may have calmed down her wild girl ways since her marriage in May, but she’s still not someone to mess with. Where “Revolution” is the fiery, dangerous side of the Texan, “Four The Record” is the soft, vulnerable Miranda that country radio started to know with “The House That Built Me.” I would consider this album to be the perfect partner album to “Revolution.” We’re all about to see a lot more of Mrs. Shelton next year, and with a new album full of potential hits showcasing a new side of her, she’ll continue to be the dominant female in country music today. The only thing missing from the album is the spitfire that we’ve had on albums past; but “Mama’s Broken Heart” should be enough to hold fans over. Miranda is in love and she’s not afraid to show it anymore.
There’s no way this album won’t go number one, or any way it won’t find more Album Of The Year nominations for the singer. It’s that good. “Four The Record” was worth the wait.
“Four The Record” is available everywhere as both a deluxe and standard edition on November 1st.
(click image for full size cover)
RATING: 9 out of 10
DOWNLOAD: All Kinds Of Kinds, Dear Diamond, Mama’s Broken Heart, Baggage Claim, Over You, Better In The Long Run, Look At Miss Ohio.