In the liner notes of Miranda Lambert's new album The Weight of These Wings, tucked inside the last page and opposite a picture of Lambert wearing a t-shirt that reads "Miss Texas Prison Rodeo," lies Lambert's "thank you" section.
It's customary to include a list of thank you's for a record, from your momma down to your dog. But on this record, Lambert opted for a simpler message: "For art's sake and for your heart's sake, thank you."
Those ten words may be a better review of this record than I could muster. But hey, let's give it the ol' college try.
The Strength in Being Vulnerable
Lambert became country's resident fire starter right out of the gate. She presented the image of a confident, if not crazy, girl who is strong even in her flaws. Nobody expects Lambert to be weak in her music. But weakness and vulnerability are two totally different characteristics.
In an August interview with Billboard, Lambert notes it "takes a lot of confidence and strength to be willing to be vulnerable." Because this time, Lambert didn't have the luxury of writing art under the guise of private emotions. Everybody knew about her divorce from fellow star Blake Shelton. And whether or not she wanted to write about that experience, everybody expected to read that relationship write into her lyrics.
So Lambert decided to journal her life after marriage and use it for her art. And that's precisely what The Weight of These Wings is: a 24-entry musical journal (Lambert wrote all but four tunes). That's why some tunes, like "Highway Vagabond" and "Pink Sunglasses," feel fun and carefree.
As a standalone track, a song about $9.99 sunglasses feels unremarkable. But as an entry in a journal wrought with sadness, transparency, grief and lessons learned the hard way, that song presents a very real look at how the little things in life matter as much as the big moments. It's a reprieve of sorts and a look into an "up" moment in an otherwise hilly drive through life.
The Nerve/The Heart
Much was made of Lambert's decision to release a double album. It's bold in a time when people barely have the attention for an EP. And frankly, most modern country artists aren't able to focus on 24 coherent songs that form one story. Hell, we're lucky to get a coherent 12-song album from the average mainstreamer nowadays. And that's not a dig at the artists, it's just a testament to their commitments that stretch them so thin the writing and recording process almost feels secondary.
But let's get this fear out of the way: every song on The Weight of These Wings belongs as part of a more integral story. She pulled it off masterfully. The first twelve, labeled "The Nerve," come from the shell Lambert created as one of country's most important voices. That's where you'll find songs like "We Should Be Friends," which should probably be the theme song of every Lambert fan across the globe. It's where you'll find the kind of lines Miranda Lambert is known for. You know, like "I can judge the cover cause I wrote the book on losing sleep and gaining weight."
The back half, "The Heart," come from the side of Lambert few see outside of her closest friends and family. It's also where you'll find the kind of songs that just absolutely tear you apart in the sweetest, softest way possible. Songs like "Tin Man," Lambert's much-anticipated co-write with Jack Ingram, whose 2002 album Electric Lambert credits as her introduction to longtime producer Frank Liddell.
"Tin Man" is simple in its execution. It's a lament directed at the Wizard of Oz's Tin Man character who only wants to have a heart. Lambert offers her broken one up in exchange for his armor. It's a hell of a way to start a record, and one of the strongest moments of vulnerability in the whole record.
To that extent, The Weight of These Wings shows the greatest range not just of Lambert's catalog, but of any mainstream country release in a very long time. "To Love Her" is as classic a country song as you'll ever hear. And yet the lyrical payoff holds strong by today's clever standard. "To love her is to learn her; some things you just can't learn," Lambert sings.
And then just flip over to "Six Degrees Of Separation" for a neo-punk rock burner with a double-tracked vocal that intentionally doesn't line up. Nobody, male or female, has the balls to pull that off in mainstream country right now besides Lambert.
That Unmistakable Sound
Somehow, through all its range, The Weight of These Wings manages to still sound like the same record. And that's no easy feat, considering how varied the production is track by track. From the slow phaser guitar on "Vice" to the nearly Jimmy Buffet feel on "Tomboy" (which belongs on country radio more than any Luke Bryan song from the past 6 years), each sonic decision on this record feels intentional.
And the intention, it appears, is to emphasize the lyrical blow-by-blows Lambert delivers with regularity. "Happiness ain't prison but there's freedom in a broken heart," she sings on the album opener. "I don't have the nerve to use my heart," she laments on the first-half closer (and yes, that's where the two disc names came from). The lyrical depth on this record surpasses all expectations.
And if you hadn't pieced it together, expectations are really high.
Folks can complain all they want about the state of country music, but the truth is, with Miranda Lambert, every one of us is witness to one of country's most important artists -- ever. We're watching the continued growth of an artist whose sound and style are both inimitable and unmistakable. This record is important for mainstream country music's survival.
The Weight of These Wings is album of the year material. And it's the album of Miranda Lambert's career, bar none.