There are two types of female country singers out there. There’s the girl with the pretty voice that sings cute, catchy pop country music. Her albums are safe – they please the masses and make mama say, “Well now, isn’t that sweet?”
Then there’s the country girl who blows you away – not just with her powerhouse voice, but with the meatiness of her songs, the authenticity of the conviction in her vocals and the fearless nature of her music.
You practically feel the grit from the dirt on her boots and smell the smoke from the end of her weathered shotgun. Her albums are hot to the touch and make mama a little uneasy, which only makes listening to them that much more exciting.
Want a quick lesson on the difference between these two types of gals? Throw in a Miranda Lambert CD, or better yet, catch her in concert, and hang on to your seat.
Then go back and check out her peers. The contrast will remind you of the tough hide that the original women of country music were cut from and make you sit a spell to re-evaluate what it means to be a female country artist.
Amidst the last leg of her headlining tour, The Revolution Continues, the current reigning female country vocalist of the year is still enjoying riding the high of the biggest year of her life.
With an armful of some of country music’s grandest and most sought-after accolades, a fiery new single and side project setting the pace for her new album, and her recent marriage to long-time love and fellow country star Blake Shelton earlier this year, Miranda Lambert has brought the country girl back into country music.
A Texas native, Lambert opted out of living in Nashville to stay close to home, settling down on a working farm – complete with horses and cows and pigs and chickens – in a small town right here in Oklahoma, so that when she and Shelton aren’t touring, they can enjoy the simple, quiet country living they love so much.
Rather than choosing a pretentious couture designer gown, like celebrity brides tend to do, Lambert got married wearing the same ivory wedding dress that her mother married her father in 33 years ago. Pairing the dress with cowboy boots, she said her vows in a barn, on a cowhide rug beneath an arch made of antlers, serving her guests venison cutlets that she hunted and harvested herself.
Her fierce rock star appeal aside, it’s these down-to-earth details about her personality that seem to have resonated with her fans the most.
The “Ran Fans,” as they are called, are avid and can’t get enough of her.
“I’ve got the best fans. I have some that I know by name. I know a lot of them; they come to so many shows they’re like old friends,” Lambert says.
“I have a lot of die-hards. My fans are so passionate. Maybe it’s because I’m passionate, I attract those types of people. They’re the kind that’ll say, ‘You better love Miranda – if not we’re gonna beat it into ya!’ I love that. It feels good to have that foundation of support. They inspire me.”
It’s no wonder she’s gained such an aggressive following. The self-proclaimed “redneck chick” has an edge that commands the stage and sets the country music charts ablaze.
That said, the past year has seen Lambert catapult into the ranks of the country elite and earn the kind of notoriety that could very well help make her a one-name superstar.
Not that she needs the help. She’s got the talent and drive alone to reach those heights – and rather than waiting around for doors to open for her, she’s more than happy to kick them down herself.
It’s hard to picture it now, but she was once on the reality television circuit, competing on the short-lived, American Idol-esque show Nashville Star – but unlike the lion’s share of potentials who make it that far on those talent searches, Lambert’s 15 minutes never ended, and her career has instead thrived from the media exposure.
“It’s the reason I’m here. I’d like to think that I’d have gotten here eventually, but it probably would’ve taken me a lot longer if I didn’t have that avenue. Getting seen by the right people and having that TV audience that’s built in – you really can’t buy that,” she says.
Just two years after her third-place finish, her 2005 debut, Kerosene, rocked the country music charts, going platinum with three hit singles, including the title track.
Her sophomore compilation, 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, made her presence known as one of the music industry’s newest femme fatales, producing four more hit singles and the album of the year award by the Academy of Country Music (ACM).
But it was 2009’s Revolution that solidified her place in the big leagues, earning her honors from both the ACM and the Country Music Association (CMA) for album of the year, with her song, “The House that Built Me” making a clean sweep of the awards for best song and video of the year, top female performance, and the 2010 Grammy for Best Female Country Performance to boot.
After that kind of tremendous success, how does an artist even go about making a follow-up album?
“It was pretty scary to be honest, but I had to get into the mindset that I can’t compete with myself. There really is no way to. I feel like to be a true artist you have to keep reinventing yourself, and that’s what I try to do,” she says.
“I’m excited for people to hear some different sides to my personality on Four the Record. I’m in a much different spot in my life – even more so than from Revolution, which was very different for me – so there’s been this whole transitioning of going from a girl to an older girl to a woman. I’m a wife now, and I’m about to be 28. I think that this new album shows the side of me as being a woman now instead of that crazy girl who wrote Kerosene at 18 years old.
“I feel like I’m opening up more and opening my mind up to more things. When I say that I’m married and a wife – that’s the settled down part of who I am – that crazy girl will always be there. There’s always going to be that rock star part of me who loves to go on the road and rock out and head bang on stage.”
To the layman, it might be easy to write her off as just another pretty blonde pop tart, given the mainstream’s ever-present obsession with yellow-tressed songstresses – but one need give Lambert credit where credit is deserved.
She’s an artist whose musical repertoire packs a punch and dark undertones that have thrived at the core of country music since the beginning – digging deep into some of the most raw and vulnerable of human emotions.
By straying away from easy sentimentality to speak from an honest, insightful and sometimes jarring level, she is adamant about never compromising substance to sell out – and this is where the storyteller in her truly shines through her writing, setting her apart from all those other blonde girls who can sing and play guitar.
This straight-shooting, no-nonsense attitude sends an empowering message to women – not in an against-men kind of way, but more in a way that encourages females to be strong, have a backbone and be confident in their own skin.
Like her idol Merle Haggard, known as the “working man’s poet,” Lambert is fast becoming the “real woman’s poet.”
But despite her fierceness, growing up in the tiny town of Lindale, Texas, Lambert says she was actually a shy and quiet child who played in the church band and didn’t get into trouble.
As private investigators, her parents were rich with stories to share with their children – and these served as the perfect tools to get the creative juices flowing in the impressionable mind of their young daughter, who always shared her father’s affinity for country music.
“When I started writing songs as a teenager, I didn’t have much life to write about yet. So I spent a lot of time listening to my parents tell stories, and there was always a lot of cheating and revenge involved. I grew up in a great home with a loving Christian family – but from that sheltered household, I could still see the outside world. My parents never tried to hide anything from my brother and I,” she says.
“We took in abused women and children for awhile. That was very eye opening. I got a glimpse of some of life’s harsh realities without having to experience them myself. "Gun Powder And Lead" and definitely "Kerosene" – songs about doing crazy things in the name of revenge – I haven’t actually done any of those things, but I’ve heard stories about people who have.”
Lambert says that she didn’t start getting into her crazy ways until she was out of high school and started playing music in bars, attributing her frisky personality to the two-and-a-half years she spent playing rough and tumble Texas roadhouse honkytonks by the age of 17, dealing with drunks and finding herself on stage while working to launch her music career.
“I did a lot of growing up in the school of hard knocks on the road when I first started out. The experience made me tough and made me appreciate what I do,” she explains.
“It was good for me. I think every performer should have to go out and pay their dues like that. It really makes you find who you are. Now, when I go out to listen to music, I’m one of those sticklers when someone else is performing who says, ‘Shhhh. Don’t talk!’”
And when Lambert says, “Shhh!” crowds shut up and listen.
Case in point: Her newest side project, the Pistol Annies, has people paying attention in a serious way to their daring and rustic flavor of classic country that pays homage to legends like Loretta Lynn and Tammy Wynette.
Comprised of Lambert and friends/fellow singer/songwriters Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, the trio of Annies is topping the country music charts with their bold debut album, Hell on Heels.
“Ashley and Angaleena stand for the same things I stand for. We’re all feisty girls on our own, but put us together and we’re a force to be reckoned with. It’s pretty amazing to see a couch dream you have with your buddies turn into something this awesome. We’re having a lot of fun!” Lambert says.
With her whirlwind year coming to a close, Lambert is ready to wind down and recharge her battery, anticipating establishing all of those fun newlywed habits and rituals with her new husband, whom she hasn’t gotten to see enough of since they’ve both been busy with touring post-wedding.
Although she loves her wild life on the road and onstage, her farm in the country – where she gardens, hunts, bakes cookies and tends to her animals – is where she says she’s happiest.
“The amount of gone time you experience on the road has been my biggest challenge. You try not to think about how many days a year you’re away from your friends and family,” Lambert says.
“Just being at my farm or my hometown in Texas to hang out and be regular – now more than ever, it’s all about balancing that real life with road life. I always want this to be fun, so I try to have that downtime at home so I don’t get burnt out. I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now, but luckily the irons are all hot. I’m just trying to keep afloat and keep my feet on the ground.”