With “Four the Record,” her fourth album— get it? — she shows why. The reigning CMA female vocalist has always adored her country sisters who came before — Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn and Emmylou Harris — but she draws just as much inspiration and grit from Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. This Texan loves her red meat, her guns, her liquor, her country, and her man, when he treats her right.
Jennings once joked that he “couldn’t go pop with a mouthful of firecrackers,” and the same holds true of Lambert. Her success has only made her stronger in her country convictions. Though there are touches of blues and rock on the Nov. 1 release, country blazes through every song here, which are drenched in mandolins, fiddles, pedal steel and a well-placed mournful organ every now and then.
Smartly, Lambert doesn’t try to replicate her modern classic, the tearjerker “The House That Built Me,” from 2009’s “Revolution.” If nothing on “Four” reaches the heights of “House,” the project scores as a consistently more even affair than her past three sets, full of heartache, betrayal, and, above all, attitude. Vocally, the 27-year old Lambert’s twang can sound boastful, regretful and torn all in the same song.
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Perhaps because she’s the daughter of a private investigators, Lambert has always looked at love with a cynical eye, well aware of the duplicitous nature most of us carry around. If any fans feared that her marriage to country king Blake Shelton would relegate songs like past hits “Kerosene” and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to her rear-view mirror, she sets the record straight PDQ. There is no song on “Four” that celebrates her wedded union (although “Safe” celebrates the security she has found with him). In fact, Lambert and Shelton’s duet, “Better In The Long Run,” co-written by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, laments the inability to walk away even though the relationship has long come “undone.” However blissful she may be in her own personal life, “happily ever after” rarely exists in Lambert’s song catalog, and we’re all better for it. On “Dear Diamond,” one of two songs she wrote solo, the seeds of deception have been sown and this bride will have to forever hold her peace.
Even songs that may first appear as romantic love ballads, such as “Over You,” reveal themselves to be something else. That tune, penned by Lambert and Shelton, is about the death of his older brother when Shelton was a teenager.
Lambert continues to grow more surefooted as a songwriter, but she and producer Frank Liddell also have a knack for finding songs that fit her perfectly and she shows just as much commitment to these tunes as she does her own. Here, she records Brandi Carlile’s sloping “Same Old You” with a bitter bite in her voice that recalls Shelby Lynne. Her languid delivery on Gillian Welch and David Rawling’s “Look At Miss Ohio turns the tale of a beauty-queen-gone-rogue into a cinematic story of gentle rebellion. The album ends on Allison Moorer’s “Oklahoma Sky,” written specifically for Lambert, that serves as a shimmering, haunting ode to love and her new home with Okie Shelton.
At 14 tunes, “Four” could use a little trimming and could definitely benefit from some more uptempo songs, like the chugging, rollicking “Fastest Girl In Town” (a anthem sure to show up in a plethora of bad-girl movies coming to a theater near you) and the “Nobody’s Fool.” On first single, top 10 hit “Baggage Claim,” she sassily sends her man packing. This is not a woman you will cross more than once.
Plus, the bluesy, sultry “Fine Tune” is the most polarizing tune she’s ever recorded. The song, penned by Natalie Hemby and Luke Laird, is erotic without ever being explicit (yes, “you started tweaking on a little knob that I didn’t even know was there” is surely about what you think it is). Musically, the adventurous song, awash in distorted guitars and vocals, will definitely turn off as many fans as it delights, but it also signals that Lambert is one of the few artists of any genre who is unafraid to mix it up.