By the end of her second major-label disc, 2007's "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," Miranda Lambert had perfected a very specific sort of country music archetype: The Angry Girl With a Gun, Who Is Also Cute.
A tarted-up hybrid of rock, alt-folk and country filled with tales of pistol packin' and revenge gittin', "Ex-Girlfriend" was a musical restraining order that was both outrageous and outrageously good. With help from an interesting back story (she was once a contestant on "Nashville Star") and a famous boyfriend (Blake Shelton), Lambert became a country-going-on-mainstream sensation, a Carrie Underwood for New Yorker readers and NRA members alike.
Her follow-up, "Revolution," is both superior to and somehow less interesting than its predecessor. It's grown-up, solid. That it lacks the prickliness and guns-blazing theatricality of "Ex-Girlfriend" is doubtless due to Lambert's ongoing maturation (she's now 25) as well as a concession that angry doesn't wear well on pretty young girls. After all, even the Dixie Chicks could get away with a song like "Goodbye Earl" only once.
"I don't have to be hateful/I can just say bless your heart," Lambert sings on the ode to barroom peaceability "Only Prettier," though it's only Track 2 and she doesn't sound convinced yet.
"Revolution" draws upon everything from Skynyrd to Haggard to Underwood; it's catchy and accessible and smart, the sort of album made by hillbillies who grew up on classic rock. Take away the pedal steel on "White Liar" and it could have been a really excellent Kings of Leon song; "Maintain the Pain," a pop number dressed up as a country-rock song, opens with the couplet, "I put a bullet in my radio/Something just hit me funny, I don't know." Maybe Toby Keith was playing?
Lambert hasn't mellowed entirely -- it's more like a partial thaw -- but the disc's best tracks (like the sweet, understated "Love Song," co-written with Shelton, and the slight but equally fine "Makin' Plans") are those that tackle issues of domestic tranquillity. Lambert is one of the few country musicians in recorded history to refuse to pay homage to small-town virtues; the closest "Revolution" gets is "The House That Built Me," a weepie about one last visit to a childhood home. It lays the pathos on with a trowel ("I bet you didn't know under that live oak/My favorite dog is buried in the yard"), but it's lovely just the same.
There are John Prine and Julie Miller covers ("That's the Way That the World Goes 'Round" and "Somewhere Trouble Don't Go," respectively) that Lambert essays as handily as if they were her own, but not all remakes fare as well. About halfway through "Revolution" there's a draggy cover of Fred Eaglesmith's "Time to Get a Gun," in which Lambert wonders about the wisdom of buying a weapon for protection. It's a nervous little hand-wringer of a track that fans of Lambert's rough-and-tumble last disc might have a tough time taking seriously. Halfway through "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," she had already amassed a substantial body count.
--Allison Stewart, Sept, 29, 2009