Album Review: Miranda Lambert's 'Platinum'

Wednesday, 09 July 2014 06:15 AM Written by 

 

lambert cover

Amid the superficial tales of her new hairdo, Miranda Lambert is doing some of the best work of her career. She'll be with Jason Aldean and Florida Georgia LIne at PNC Park on July 26.

As male singers are strangled creatively by bro-country anthems, Lambert is pulling off a sound blending tradition (a sort of 21st Century extension of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn) with attitude, humanity and vulnerability.  That blend in the past has infused her performances, both solo and with Pistol Annies, with the ring of truth. That remains the case on Platinum, a collection of 16 songs, seven co-written by Lambert and one ("Bathroom Sink") that she wrote herself.  In all, the album is overflowing with all those attributes I just described. Lambert is also unafraid to wrap her music in a prideful twang few care to (or can) emulate nowadays.  So far, two tracks have scored high on the charts: "Automatic" and "Something Bad," a duet with Carrie Underwood.

Musically, her longtime Producer Frank Liddell, assisted by Chuck Ainlay and Nashville session bassist Glenn Worf, create focus and cohesion on all levels. The music has a clear retro edge apparent on tunes like the knowing "Little Red Wagon," a jab at a superficial suitor delivered over a Bo Diddley beat.

Nostalgia is a strong thread throughout the album."Smokin' And Drinkin'" carries a simple, eloquent message about nostalgia, joined by Little Big Town who I find more palatable as backup singers than artists in their own right. The clever, thoughtful "Automatic" addresses another type of nostalgia: of cassette tapes, writing on paper, snail mail and print maps, times not that long ago, she continues that exploration on "Old S--t," (not bleeped on the record), which references hand-me-down tools, splitting logs, vinyl records, turntables and so on. I agree. In my mind there's old sh-t, new s--t--then Aldean and the rest of the interchangeable, sound-alike bro-country types.

"All That's Left," written by country legend Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie, does a 180 into retro, the studio band replaced by the Vince Gill-affiliated Nashville Western Swing band the Time Jumpers, giving Lambert a buoyant, jazzy cushion.

Everything here isn't nostalgic or acerbic. The reality of women confronting age is the focus of "Gravity." "Hard Staying Sober" looks unflinchingly at daunting difficulties of coping with life, written by Lambert, Hemby and Luke Laird. "Somethin' Bad," of course, is the obligatory, contrived "vocal event." It's not an awful performance by any means, yet to my ears, it's one of the very few that seems tacked on. "Holding Onto You" is a convincing, simple gem of a love song. She's equally strong on "Another Sunday In The South," which closes the album, a song brimming with atmosphere.

Lambert's strengths from the start of her recording to now remain the same: a self-confident, sense of herself seemingly unaffected by all the hype and overblown nonsense that's characterized too many aspects of Nashville in the recent years. Not many of her peers come close. And thank God for that.

 

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