If there is a ticking time bomb signaling the impending end of the '80s hair-band nature of mainstream country music, Miranda Lambert is probably lighting the fuse. Lambert's third album, Revolution, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's Top Country Albums chart last week and sold 23 percent more (almost 69,000 units) out of the gate than her previous album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which ended up as the 2008 Country Music Association album of the Year.
It doesn't take many listens to the searing Revolution to realize Lambert, nearing superstar status at age 25, has matured greatly as a writer and interpreter. Certainly of all the leading ladies of Nashville, Lambert is taking more artistic chances and pushing the boundaries farther and faster than anyone - and getting away with it commercially.
Take one listen to the guitar solo and the busy, rocking production on "Sin For A Sin," and it is immediately obvious this girl's musical ambition is too big to be limited by the usual Nashville strictures. The current single and opening track, "White Liar," has more in common with Buddy Miller and the Dixie Chicks than it does with Toby Keith or Carrie Underwood. And yes, that's a steel guitar, an honest-to-God steel guitar. Now that's country.
Two factors that have always separated Lambert from the other Nashville fresh faces is that she writes most of her own material and she plays her own guitar. Lambert has always demanded - and gotten - more control of her repertoire and her sound than most Nashville divas.
For those who don't remember, Lambert walked out on her first Nashville recording sessions when she felt her work was being dumbed down and varnished with the de rigeur Music Row pop sheen. When she did return to Nashville, it was with a contract that gave her control over the selection of producers and material.
Two choice covers on Revolution indicate that Lindale native Lambert (that's near Tyler) is going her own way, selecting material from outside the usual Nashville sources. The irony of Fred Eaglesmith's "Time To Get A Gun" may be lost on part of her audience, but it is a distinct and unmistakable nod at the alternative-country music world (Lambert was featured on the cover of one of the final print editions of alt-country bible No Depression magazine) that despises mainstream Nashville's market-at-Wal-Mart pabulum.
The other cover, of Julie Miller's "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go," moves Lambert way beyond country and even alt-country; with Jay Joyce's screaming guitar solos and the driving rhythm section, this track sounds like what might happen if AC/DC decided to cut a country album. Notice to Nashville: Miranda Lambert is a rocker, and tracks like "Someplace Trouble Don't Go" prove it beyond the ability of any Music Row public relations camouflage to hide.
While nothing about Revolution signals a return to old-school country that some fans of country music desire, the album is absolutely a breath of fresh air that Nashville needs. If you don't believe it, listen to those steel guitars wail on "White Liar."