Miranda Lambert brought her A-game during a preview concert for her upcoming seventh solo studio project Wildcard last night (Sept. 23) in Nashville. Instead of previewing the album at the standard country haunts around Music City, she fittingly chose the iconic “rock block” venue Exit/In, the intimate, bare bones music venue that has hosted artists including The Police, Jimmy Buffett, The Ramones, Death Cab For Cutie, and Etta James.
She was fully in the driver’s seat during her authoritative, hair-whipping take on Wildcard’s churning “Locomotive,” though she admitted being a little nervous about playing in Music City.
“We get a little jittery when we play Nashville for some reason. The energy is high and the expectations are high,” she said.
Some tracks on Wildcard might draw strongly on her rock ‘n’ roll capabilities, but don’t call it a reinvention. Lambert says she’s just getting back to the core of who she is as an artist. During the set, she recalled listening to one of the edgier songs off the project, “Mess with My Head.”
“In a way, I feel like I reinvented a new rock ‘n’ roll sound for myself on a few of these songs, but also in a way, I revisited the rock ‘n’ roll sound that was there in the first place. My husband [Brendan McLoughlin, whom she wed in February] was listening to ‘Mess with My Head’ because he’s supportive, and wants us to make however many cents we make these days when we get a stream,” she said with a smirk. “Right after it came on, [Lambert’s 2005 hit] ‘Kerosene’ came on. I was like, ‘This isn’t a departure at all, I’m just back, bitches.'”
Of course, dumpy bars are where Lambert started her career, performing for anyone who would listen in tiny clubs in and around Texas. As the venues got larger, her fans followed as she layered her Texas twang with shades of bluegrass (“White Liar”), smartly polished modern sounds (“Mama’s Broken Heart”), and acoustic-based, folkier material (see the exquisite double album The Weight Of These Wings).
With the new project, Lambert relishes in showcasing a fuller range of her abilities, moving effortlessly from the swampy “White Trash,” the uplifting country zinger “It All Comes Out In The Wash,” the Texas-born strains of “Tequila Does,” to the transparent portrayal of a hardcore romantic with a checkered past on the breezy “Track Record.”
“I was in Texas with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram,” she said of “Tequila Does.” “The last time we went there we wrote ‘Tin Man,’ so there is good mojo there. We were hanging out and drinking tequila and I feel like anytime you drink tequila, everything’s better—not the next day, but right then. It sounds just like Texas and every time I sing it I feel like I’m onstage in Gruene Hall.”
The softly uplifting “Bluebird,” written with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby, was inspired by an old poem.
“Luke texted me a line of an old poem he had seen somewhere, something about keeping a bluebird in your heart. He said, ‘I want to write that with you, because I feel like that’s something you did, and something we all do.’ It felt really magical, because something about a bluebird is hopeful, even through blue times. When I sing this song, I feel like a little flutter, and I feel every single word of what it means.”
Wildcard marks a production shift for Lambert, who chose to take a break from working with longtime producer Frank Liddell, and instead went into the studio with Jay Joyce, known for his work with Eric Church, Little Big Town, Cage The Elephant, and The Wallflowers.
“I made every single record in my career with Frank Liddell, who I adore and trust so much… but like any long relationship, sometimes you reach a place where you have to regroup. Me and him had a bottle of wine on the magic porch—the magic porch does some magic shit—it always involves some sort of holy water, if you will. We just talked it out and thought maybe we should take a minute from each other and go get inspired somewhere else and come back and revisit. He gave me his blessing, which I needed, because that’s what longtime relationships do. So I called Jay Joyce. I knew I needed to approach this record with the same energy and with the same heart, open-mindedness and excitement that I approached my very first record [Kerosene] in 2005. So I just wanted to be open and pushed and Jay was the man to do that.”
Lambert’s signature wit was in full force. Gwen Sebastian traded lines with Lambert on the quirky “Way Too Pretty For Prison,” a meditation on offing a sorry lover, in the tradition of the Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye Earl” or Brandy Clark’s “Stripes.” Maren Morris was Lambert’s vocal cohort on the album version.
“I called Maren and said, ‘I got a song about killin’ someone. You in?’ She was like, ‘Duh,’” Lambert noted.
She offered another track from the project, “Pretty Bitchin’,” noting, “It makes fun of tabloids, which makes me happy.”
The moody album closer “Dark Bars,” a wholly appropriate song for an Exit/In show, was co-written with Liz Rose.
“I was sittin’ in New York, which I’ve been spending a lot of time there since I married a Staten Island native, he was an NYPD officer who has made me happy, thank the good Lord,” she said to the cheers of the crowd. “I spent a lot of time in SoHo in an apartment with a fire escape…just four days a week, don’t get me wrong, I had to go home.”
“We sat on the fire escape and smoked cigs out the window…I don’t do that anymore, but I was writing songs and ‘feeling creative.’ It’s an artist community in SoHo so I felt like we should just hone in on it. Liz got there early and I said, ‘Let’s just go hang out in some dark bars and see if we can find some stories to write about.’ And she said, ‘I think that is the story.’ She’s right, because today my guitar tech brought my guitar to the bus so I could practice this, and it smelled like beer and cigarettes and I got so excited. It felt like home to me. I’m so blessed that it’s gotten big and we can tour arenas and do all this crazy shit—it’s awesome—but I feel most at home on a stage like this in front of people who want to hear this music.”
Noting that her and her band are heading back out on the road this week, she closed with a cover of Linda Ronstadt’s “Willin’”.
“These times are especially hard and changing, figuring how the hell to put a record out anymore. I’m still old-school and romantic about records and how they are a snapshot of someone’s life, and their journey for the last couple of years. I feel it slipping away and I’m willing to change—I don’t want to be the granny that still fights it, you know, but I also am from the day of the endcap at Walmart being everything and that’s how you sold a record. I’m trying to learn with everybody how to get the music to the people. But right now, we’re just taking the music to the people on the road. However many shows we have to play, however many songs we have to sing—as a band, we’ve been doing this a really long time. I feel like no matter what, how the tide turns or changes, there is something magical about people on the stage just playing their songs and the people that love music that we all seek out…they are going to come to the show and they are going to find us. We just have to hope that’s what works.
“I feel like even though I’ve been doing this since I was 17—I’ll be 36 in November—and I feel like I’m just getting started.”
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