Texan-born Miranda Lambert occupies her own zone somewhere between the current mainstream country and the more rootsy sounds of Americana. As she explains herself, being a major-label artist involves compromise.
I love raw albums. I’d love to record an album in a garage and for it to sound like an old Gary Stewart album, without a bunch of overdubbed this and that. But when you’re in the mainstream, you’ve got to fit in. You’ve got to get your foot in the door first.Miranda Lambert
Lambert’s oeuvre is enjoyably feisty and tuneful. Rock legends like Steve Winwood and The B-52s have appeared on her records, while she’s covered John Prine and Gillian Welch. She’s also helped to launch the careers of fellow country artists like Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, and Natalie Hemby.
To date, through her first eight records, Lambert’s yet to make a bad record – she’s consistently solid. I’ve only covered Lambert’s major-label solo albums. This excludes her self-released 2001 self-titled album and her 2021 collaboration with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram. It also leaves out her work with Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe in the Pistol Annies.
Miranda Lambert Albums: Ranked
Lambert released her major-label debut as a fresh-faced 21-year-old, and she was already a talented songwriter. She wrote almost half of her debut album singlehandedly, while her father, who played in a band in the 1970s, helped out with ‘Greyhound Bound for Nowhere’ and ‘Me and Charlie Talking’. Steve Earle is also credited for the title track’s resemblance to his 1996 song ‘I Feel Alright’. Kerosene is often charming, but it lacks personality compared to Lambert’s later efforts.
#7 Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Lambert’s second album shows growth. There’s more hell-raising to follow her debut’s ‘Kerosene’, with ‘Gunpowder + Lead’ and the title track. But she’s also respectful of country heritage – there’s a gorgeous cover of ‘Easy From Now On’, recorded by Emmylou Harris in 1978, as well as a take on Gillian Welch’s as-yet-unreleased ‘Dry Town’.
On her eighth major-label solo album, Lambert is happily settled in her romantic life, so she’s writing portraits of others. There are often fun – Carol Jean, the chicken egg queen, who’s “a bad mother clucker with a house on the hill/Rides her hens around town in a Coup de Ville.” As a result, Palomino packs less emotional heft than is usual for Lambert. The award for the most incongruous guest appearance of the year goes to ‘Music City Queen’ with The B-52’s – Fred Schneider acting as Lambert’s hypeman is an unexpected touch. Palomino is Lambert’s first major-label album to miss the #1 slot on the Billboard country charts, but it’s worthy nonetheless.
#5 Four the Record
Four The Record feels like the overlooked record in Lambert’s discography, nestled between the hit records Revolution and Platinum. The first half isn’t particularly impressive, but it warms up halfway through with ‘Baggage Claim’, featuring 1960s veteran Steve Winwood on Hammond organ. There are more impressive tracks in the back half – another excellent Gillian Welch cover on ‘Look at Miss Ohio’, a hard-charging Chris Stapleton cover on ‘Nobody’s Fool’, and the pretty ‘Oklahoma Sky’.
Jay Joyce in the producer’s chair makes Wildcard Lambert’s glossiest album – the heavy guitars on ‘Mess With My Head’ are closer to rock than country. This may be a deterrent to some listeners, but WIldcard boasts a fun set of songs. My favourite is ‘Pretty Bitchin”, like a crass version of Pollyanna’s ‘Glad Game’, while she’s also fun on ‘Tequila Does’. Despite the fun and the gloss, profound deep cuts like ‘Fire Escape’ and ‘Track Record’.
Aptly named, Platinum marks the height of Lambert’s success. It was released while she was married to fellow country artist Blake Shelton, won the Grammy for Best Country Album, and topped the Billboard chart. Despite Lambert’s star status, Platinum is often closer to traditional country than what came before – the earthy humour of ‘Babies Making Babies’ and the plea to ‘Priscilla’ are representative tracks. Conversely, the more barefaced attempts at crossover hits, like ‘Somethin’ Bad’ with Carrie Underwood, are less enjoyable.
Lambert’s first two albums were impressive, but she realised her potential on her third. She’s able to cover artists like John Prine and Julie Miller and make the songs her own. Natalie Hemby, now a worthy solo artist in her own right, is a valuable addition as a co-writer. ‘Dead Flowers’, ‘Heart Like Mine’, ‘Virginian Bluebell’, and ‘Me And Your Cigarettes’ are among the many delights that Revolution has to offer.
#1 The Weight of These Wings
Lambert separated from Blake Shelton in 2015, informing her strongest set of songs on the double album The Weight of These Wings. Like all good breakup albums, The Weight of These Wings explores a gamut of emotions. The resignation and heartbreak of ‘Tin Man’ and ‘Use My Heart’ is balanced by the hope and release of ‘I’ve Got Wheels’ and ‘Runnin’ Just In Case’. The songs are presented in stripped-down, elegant productions and arrangements that feel timeless.