Like a shard of glass hiding in shag carpet, Miranda Lambert has a voice that’s small and dangerous.
And the shag is contemporary country — it’s the genre of pop music most ready to absorb disparate sounds into its fibers without compromising its uniform appearance. Spend an hour dialed in to country radio and you’ll hear the influence of the Cars, Southern rap and U2 all whiz past without much of a fuss.
Lambert, Nashville’s most beloved tough-talker, is up to something similar on her new album, “Four the Record.” After her 2009 disc “Revolution” cleaned house at just about every major awards show last year, she’s decided to try on a few different styles — often making them sound like her own. With “Fine Tune,” the 27-year-old sings about heartbreak and defibrillation as her backing musicians wilt into a fog of distortion like a deflated Led Zeppelin.
Despite its adventurous spirit, “Four the Record” remains only the second-best album Lambert minted this year. Her new group, the Pistol Annies, stunned the industry last summer by topping the country album chart with very little promotion and some very compelling tunes. Flanked by her songwriting buddies Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, Lambert sang about pill-popping housewives and beer-swilling party girls with equal gusto.
She summons her inner girl-gone-wild again here with “Fastest Girl in Town,” written with Presley. Over a mid-tempo rock arrangement, Lambert drags some poor idiot through a whiskey-fueled romance that derails the moment the cops show up. “If he pulls us over, I’ll turn on the charm,” she twangs. “You’ll be in the slammer, and I’ll be on his arm.”
But once Lambert works out all of that sass and quirk, “Four the Record” settles into more complex emotional terrain — gorgeous songs coursing with longing, anger and shame.
“Dear Diamond” is an old-school cheater’s lament of the highest, most heart-squeezing order. “You cost more than he wanted to lose,” Lambert trills, confessing her infidelity not to her husband but to the glimmering stone on her finger. Wondering how something so perfect could represent something so doomed, she ends the song by sealing her lips: “Dear Diamond, I promise to keep the secret I have while he’s holding me.”
Not as sad, but every bit as lovely, is “Look at Miss Ohio,” a ballad by Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings about trying to escape the amplified gravity of a small town. Lambert plays it straight, squeezing every drop of bittersweetness from the song’s prize line: “I wanna do right, but not right now.”
Her voice has never been big, but Lambert knows how to use its clarity and bite to inhabit every corner of a song. And as a songwriter, her gifts are numerous — one of which is her ability to transpose rage into laughs.
She sings through clenched teeth on “Baggage Claim,” a funny, furious, Southern-rocking rant about a lover with too much baggage — emotional and otherwise.
“I have been draggin’ around your sensitive ego,” Lambert growls at the outset. “Making sure that your bags arrive on time for the dog and pony show.” He loses his bags. She loses her temper. “When you hit the ground, check the lost and found, ’cause it ain’t my problem now,” she snaps.
You might find a TSA agent more forgiving than Lambert, but you won’t find a country star more magnetic.
“Baggage Claim,” “Dear Diamond,”
“Look at Miss Ohio”