Coming off a critically acclaimed and award-winning album, Revolution, Miranda Lambert was worried about delivering an equally creative and compelling set. She approached the creation of Four the Record with a blank mind and an open heart. Being awarded the Female Vocalist of the Year at the CMA Awards for the second year running humbled the Texas native, and what she could never have expected was scoring another number one album on the Billboard charts.
Well, all the accolades and praise are worth it. What Lambert has been able to brew on Four the Record most artists dream of doing their whole lives. She’s pushed boundaries even further than before, and while she’s embraced her country roots, she has also bought into commercial success. Get ready, Lambert–you might need another trophy case or two for all your hard work.
The opening track, “All Kinds of Kinds,” penned by Phillip Coleman and Don Henry, is a circus-like themed dedication to the millions of different people in this world. “Ilsa was an acrobat who went and fell in love with that Horatio the human cannonball,” Lambert sings on the first verse. With an eclectic pump organ and slide acoustic and clavinet, the track hums along quite steadily. She then notes in the chorus that “ever since the beginning to keep the world spinning, it takes all kinds of kinds.” The second verse talks about a congressman “with closets full of skeletons” who likes dresses, and a pharmacist who takes her own pills. The lyrics are cleverly snapped together and create lasting portraits of real people. The melodic line is infectious and transforms an intriguing observation about the world into a self-empowerment anthem. We could all take a lesson from Lambert that different and interesting people are what make our world worth experiencing. The background vocals by Henry and Stoney LaRue heavily soak behind Lambert’s powerful delivery and add an extra layer to a poignant performance.
“Fine Tune,” written by Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird, draws comparisons of Lambert’s heart to a car that’s “missing all the vital signs.” With steel drums, electric guitar, and robotic vocals, “Tune” is a surprise in and of itself. She laments that she has an “engine of a heart that would not start, had to jump it so much, it hurt.” Her love of a man that “pulled up in a rescue truck” was the only way she could be saved. Lambert’s brazen use of imagery of tools, cars, trucks, and keys culminates in a thought-provoking track. She expresses her relief that the man of her dreams has shown up: “Oh my god, you turned all my loose strings. You’re the love innovator.” She then compares herself to a guitar, thus the title of the song. Two cuts in, and Lambert has already proven her capability of exploring raw and complex sounds. The multitude of elements that comprise “Tune” caramelize it as an album gem.
With a very familiar sound, “Fastest Girl in Town,” written by Lambert with Angaleena Presley, could have easily appeared on either of Lambert’s first two albums, Kerosene or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It was a good move to include this track. While growth is essential to the evolution of an artist, straying too far from formulas that have proved successful in the past can be off-putting. Betsey Long, background vocalist, lends her vocal chops on “Girl,” which celebrates a woman who’s “feeling frisky” and wants to blaze through town. Be warned fellas, there “ain’t no use in trying to slow me down, ’cause you’re running with the fastest girl in town.” Throughout the song, Lambert talks cigarettes, whiskey, and fast cars, which easily embodies her real life persona. In the past, Lambert has not been afraid to say and sing exactly how she feels; this is no exception.
The first solo penned song on Four the Record is “Safe.” Here she expresses her love for her man, Mister Blake Shelton, and feeling safe whenever she’s with him. “You walk in front of me to make sure that I don’t fall and break my own heart,” Lambert sings. The tale of comforting love runs thick in verse structure but lacks in a strong chorus. “With you I’m safe, with you I’m safe” is the short and sweet chorus. It is rare that Lambert gets lovey-dovey, and with the longer verses, she says what she needs to say without leaning on a word-packed chorus line. In over four minutes, “Safe” declares that she, in turn, will always be there to make sure her man is safe. No need to go grabbing your tissues and whispering an “aww” because Lambert keeps the touching sentiments to a minimum. Certainly not a ground breaking delivery, “Safe,” while an enjoyable performance, is just too safe for the “Gun Powder and Lead” singer.
What we’ve come to expect from the blonde bomb shell, “Mama’s Broken Heart,” written by Brandy Clark, Shane McAnally, and Kasey Musgraves, is a revenge-injected rock song that breaks down all the barriers. With the rowdy sensation of Lambert’s best man-hating material, “Heart” takes on a different persona and style. Her Mama gives her some much needed advice about refusing to let a break up to spiral her daughter out of control. “I can hear her now saying she ain’t gonna have it. Don’t matter how you feel, it only matters how you look,” Lambert cooes right before belting out the triumphant chorus. She wishes she “could be a little less dramatic,” but, she points out, that just isn’t her. Her mama “came from a softer generation” where women simply dabbed on makeup and went on their way. Lambert will have none of it. In a short three minutes, “Heart” stabs you in the gut and takes your change purse. All you gotta do is put that sucker on repeat.
“Dear Diamond,” another Lambert penned track, takes an unexpected vision of what one would anticipate about a song sung to a wedding ring. Instead of taking on an over-the-top “I’m in love” approach, she actually questions whether it’s “too good to be true.” A melancholic ballad opens Lambert up, more than in the past. “Dear Diamond, what will we do, lie like the devil or just face the truth?” she asks. Her past, it seems, has clouded her mind of the future. She’s unsure whether it was worth what her husband had to sacrifice for her. Lambert’s emotional delivery charges the lyrics, and she can only bask in this heartfelt moment. There are things that she’s lied about that would literally kill the one she loves. Without being too over dramatic, “Diamond” carries with it enough simplicity and texture to tug at the heart strings.
The twangy “Same Old You,” a tune about a girl confronting her man, was penned by Brandi Carlile. “Tell me where you been, where you goin’ to. Where were you last night?” Lambert demands on the first verse. Time and time again, he has let her down, and as surmised from the lyrics, they were supposed to be married. “So you can keep your ring, and I’ll keep my daddy’s name,” Lambert concludes. A sound close to home in traditional country music, “You” relies heavily on whiskey mornings and doing “some thinking.” If he won’t change, why should I? She grapples with this question throughout the track and even pulls his momma into the equation. “Your mama’s gonna cry her eyes,” Lambert points out. With no wedding in sight, the boy is doomed to remain the “same old you.”
The lead single, “Baggage Claim,” written by Lambert with Hemby and Laird, is a funky kiss-off anthem to a man with a ton of baggage. She’s fed up, and she wants him to know exactly “what has set me off today.” With rockin’ drums, guitar rifts, and B-3 organ, Lambert’s “Claim” rolls sweetly off the tongue in metaphoric pleasure. If this singing thing doesn’t pan out, Lambert could easily write songs for other performers or become a seclusive poet. Her edgy and sassy vocals elevate this track from something that could easily fall flat to another radio hit.
“Easy Living,” penned with Scotty Wray, is, well, easy listening. A metal spoon-like instrumentation and whistling interlude pepper the track and take the rainy day song to new heights. At its core, “Easy” is a love song, and despite society’s model and fighting “like dogs,” Lambert notes that it’s “easy loving you.” Even though the track clocks in at just over two minutes and thirty seconds, she has ample time to talk about life and her point of view. “They say life’s a bitch and then you die,” she says. However, she doesn’t quite understand that perspective. It’s all easy living, no need to be too overdramatic and make something out of nothing.
The most resonating and powerful album cut, “Over You,” was written with Shelton. A stripped down arrangement and gut wrenching vocal tells the biographical tale of a life cut too short. At age 14, Shelton suffered a familial tragedy when his older brother, at age 24, was killed in a fatal car crash. Lambert has opened up about the impact of the song and how Shelton just could not record it. The lyrics are rather simple, but the simplicity makes it even more emotional. “You went away, how dare you. I miss you,” Lambert laments. She says people keep telling her it’ll be ok, but she knows she’ll never be “over you.” The only thing that makes the death sink in is seeing the name in stone. Without being preachy, “You” is the perfect combination of passion and perfection to hit the heart dead on and send chills down the spine. This has single written all over it.
Written by David Rawlings and Gillian Welch, “Look at Miss Ohio” is a classic “runaway bride” tale. A woman, plagued and downtrodden with pressure to get married, decides to “drive to Atlanta and live out this fantasy.” Exactly what that fantasy is is never quite addressed. “I wanna do right but not right now,” she sings repetitively throughout the song. She is at war with herself over what choices she should make. She knows what the right thing to do is, but she’s just not ready. The track, plunged in dreary tempo and lackluster lyrics, becomes a bump in the road for Four. If you are looking for a flaw in an otherwise flawless album, this track is it.
Picking up the pieces, “Better in the Long Run,” written by Charles Kelley, Monroe, and Gordie Sampson, is a priceless duet with country hunk Shelton. “I’m just too selfish I guess,” they sing on the chorus. A break up is hard on anyone, and interestingly enough, the pain in their vocals soar here. While the newly married couple is incredibly happy, they both have experienced their fair share of heartache and pain in their lives, which is evident on “Run.” “I can’t unlove you just because you say it’s better in the long run,” Shelton and Lambert continue to pour on the regret. As the track reels on, Shelton proves that his emotional reach and vocal power is an equal match to Lambert’s saucy and meaningful voice.
On “Nobody’s Fool,” penned by Chris Stapleton, Lambert makes herself to be the fool after a touchy break up. Trying “to drown out my heart,” she heads to the bar, where, of course, she runs into him. Swinging back several glasses of scotch, perhaps, she reminisces that “the day I left is my only regret.” She knows she can’t change the past, and when people ask her about it, she plays “it off cool.” Oh, he’s nobody, and she’s nobody’s fool, she quips. With electric guitar sensibilities and a great hook, Lambert is at the top of her hit making form. She’s always been the one to point the finger of blame, but “Fool” reveals that she is just as guilty at making mistakes.
A fluffy love anthem, “Oklahoma Sky,” written by Allison Moorer, is a string lead track that ebbs and flows like a mountainous stream. “How long has it taken me to find you,” she inquires on the first verse. She takes the entire track to answer this question, and while the song drags somewhere in middle, the sentiment is real and touching. She describes that she is so in love that “a feather could have knocked me down.” In almost five minutes, Lambert’s tears have “washed out to sea.” It is almost as if Four the Record is the story of her life, and all the trials and tribulations (the other tracks) are nothing more than stepping stones to reaching contentment on “Sky.” Quite unlike most previous Lambert performances, this closing track is soft and explores a rarely seen side of the rowdy country crooner.
Must Listens: “All Kinds of Kinds,” “Mama’s Broken Heart,” “BaggageClaim Claim,” “Over You,” “Better in the Long Run,” “Nobody’s Fool”
Rating: 4.5 out of 5