Sunday, 1 June 2014

Miranda Lambert - Platinum Sony Music Entertainment

Since the release of Miranda Lambert’s last album in 2011, the bar for Music Row’s female output has been raised considerably higher. So the challenge was set for Miranda to respond to the albums of Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Brandy Clark and Lambert’s own collaboration project, the Pistol Annies. Each of these records eclipsed those of their male counterparts in 2013 and the good news is that PLATINUM is set to do likewise this year. 

Although this fifth studio album by Miranda is comfortably her most accomplished release to date, a desire to cover all bases has slightly restricted its march to classic status and, at 16 tracks, has exceeded the optimum number of songs to make a truly definitive album. Yet there is sufficient substance in PLATINUM to suggest that Miranda has the talent to impart her influence right across the country music spectrum.

On her previous albums, Miranda has not shied away from a stab at the traditional angle with covers of Gillian Welch and John Prine songs along with some classic country style originals. Right at the heartbeat of PLATINUM are three exceptional tracks which set a marker as to how contemporary country music can harness the magical sound of the past. Quite whether ‘Old Shit’ and ‘Gravity is a Bitch’ will get any radio play is debatable but they’re getting plenty of airtime in this household. The latter sees the album swing in a jazz direction, just one of the many genres woven into PLATINUM’s fabric. One old time number already getting UK air play by Bob Harris is the collaboration with the Time Jumpers on a Tom T. Hall/Dixie Hall song ‘All That’s Left’. This infectious Western Swing number ideally suits Miranda’s sassy Texas drawl and shows how well she can adapt to different styles.

Such is the wealth of top quality material on the album, I don’t want to dwell too much on the songs that haven’t really matched the high standards of the majority but ‘Somethin' Bad’ really belongs on a record of her duet partner Carrie Underwood, ‘Platinum’ is a little lacklustre and ‘Too Rings Shy’ is a touch messy. The latter is a shame as the normally brilliant writer Brandy Clark is among its composers.

On the subject of song writing, PLATINUM is full of clever, explicit and clear lyrics without any air of pretension. Miranda has had a hand in writing most of the songs including a solo effort ‘Bathroom Sink’ which musically is one of the tracks to veer in a rock direction. Miranda’s song writing is still an area for development but a recent social media Q&A session revealed her current listening experiences to include the outstanding young Americana singer-songwriter John Fullbright. So she is not far away from a seriously good influence. The best lyric from the album comes from its stand out track. ‘Too soon to be a mother and father but too late for the alma mater’ is a line straight from a Kacey Musgraves style song and ‘Babies Makin’ Babies’, with its wonderful verse and chorus construction, shows Miranda can match social commentary with ear pleasing  appeal.

The lead- off single ‘Automatic’ has had plenty of press since its release and this radio friendly track possesses a growing quality. A hint of the Dixie Chicks at their peak can be detected in the song which reflects on a common country music theme of nostalgia. The same topic is the subject of the Little Big Town collaboration ‘Smokin’ and Drinkin’ which like the Carrie duet track probably will have more appeal on one of the band’s albums. The song has a slightly languid feel to it but will at least have sufficient merit for fans of the quartet.

Among the many high spots on the record is where Miranda blends a little soul into her country with the super Ashley Monroe co-write ‘Holding On to You’. As you would expect the lyrical content is top notch and you can imagine a subtle dose of brass being added to raise the soul stakes. Ashley also contributes to the album closer, a quintessential take on the south from the usual Sunday morning viewpoint. ‘Another Sunday in the South’ and its listings neighbour ‘Hard Staying Sober’ are pretty much country music staple and showcase Miranda at what she does best.

Of the remaining tracks, ‘Girls’ is a solid and safe choice to open the album, while in contrast ‘Little Red Wagon’ sees Miranda move into more risky territory. This track will have a tendency to divide opinion which from my point of view has some strong rockabilly and extremely sassy vibes but falls a little short in its chorus appeal. The final track under scrutiny has been a tough one to analyse but ultimately ‘Priscilla’ got the nod after understanding the sentiment behind it and putting a value on the guitar intro. Quite whether Miranda and Blake have the same media scrutiny as the subjects of the song is questionable but the track is well put together and would have been more prominent on a lesser album.

The sparkling early innocent promise of Miranda Lambert’s first two albums is starting to blossom. PLATINUM is also a major leap forward from the two recent albums which fluctuated from outstanding to patchy in their content. One thing certain is that this latest record will provoke debate and scrutiny within country music circles. It seems Miranda has the blessing from the industry to experiment and this is possibly the most refreshing aspect of the project. PLATIMUM is an outstanding record but the good news is that the definitive and classic album from Miranda Lambert is still to come.

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