Texas Wrangler

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By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 15, 2007

NEW YORK

Miranda Lambert is the most dangerous-sounding woman in country music. She's also No. 1 with a bullet. So you have to ask: Miranda, are you packing heat?

"Can't tell you," Lambert twangs. "That's why it's called a concealed weapon. How about you just be nice?"

Asking Lambert about her armament is a legitimate question. The country starlet's new album, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," opens with the raging "Gunpowder & Lead," in which she sings of delivering shotgun-pellet payback to an abusive man. She wrote the chorus's kicker -- "I'm gonna show him what a little girl's made of / Gunpowder and lead" -- during a concealed handgun class back home in East Texas.

"Miranda has lived in gun culture all her life," explains her father, Rick, a retired cop and private investigator. "I'm a firearms collector and hunter. She was taught to shoot when she was a little bitty girl. So it's natural for her to put a gun in a song.

"But she's not a gangsta talking about shooting cops and bonking women on the head. She's talking about real things that happen to real people. It's not that safe [stuff] that's going on in country music, and some people are scared of it."

And how. Miranda Lambert specializes in rough-and-ready music -- drinkin' songs and breakup songs and bloodthirsty revenge fantasies about, say, torching a cheating boyfriend's abode ("Kerosene") or starting a bar brawl over a former flame ("Crazy Ex-Girlfriend"). The 23-year-old singer and songwriter can come across like a loose cannon with a Texas-size temper onstage, too. Remember that performance on last year's Country Music Association Awards that ended with Lambert looking all wild-eyed as she smashed her Gibson Epiphone? So not Nashville nice!

Lambert promises she'll be on her best behavior during tonight's Academy of Country Music Awards show (8 p.m. on CBS), on which she's performing her self-explanatory single, "Famous in a Small Town," and possibly accepting an award. (She's up for two: best female vocalist and best new female vocalist.)

"Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" is a stunning recording that's brimming with energy and personality. Featuring 11 superlative songs -- eight of which were written or co-written by Lambert -- the CD flirts with perfection and might well be the best new album you'll hear all year, in any genre. As on Lambert's 2005 major-label debut, "Kerosene," the music on "Crazy Ex" isn't slick or safe or glitzy or designed for maximum mainstream appeal. It's raw and full of verve, with lyrical depth, like a louder, harder-edged take on the outlaw country music on which Lambert was raised.

During promotional appearances, she hears one question a lot -- Are you, like, crazy?-- but, in fact, if you listen to her new album, you'll hear a completely different side, particularly on the bittersweet ballad "Love Letters" and the aching, yearning "More Like Her."

"I'm really glad the album's out, because I feel like people really were starting to think of me only as the bad-ass 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,' " Lambert says. "I'm not that mean, scary, hard-core chick. I mean, I can be, because I'm from Texas. But I also have that 23-year-old-wanna-be-in-love thing, too. My music is about being strong, even in your vulnerability. I have all kinds of emotions, but I think having strength is the main thread to my writing on this album."

Released May 1, "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" entered the country album chart at No. 1, edging out "Pure BS," the new CD from Blake Shelton, who happens to be Lambert's boyfriend. Lambert says she won a bet with her beau by outselling him; he now owes her a vacation. "He plans it, he pays for it," she says. "All he tells me is what day we're leaving and what clothes to bring." She giggles.


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