Miranda Lambert writes and sings country songs with a sharp edge—sometimes with slashing rage. "Forget your high society/I'm soakin' it in kerosene," she announced to an ex-boyfriend in the title track of her debut CD Kerosene, the best-selling country debut album of 2005. Outside the norm for twenty-first century country music in the dark quality of her songs, and in composing most of them herself rather than interpreting the carefully calculated offerings of Nashville songwriters, Lambert ranked as one of the most exciting new performers in the country genre in the mid-2000s decade.
Lambert was born on November 10, 1983, in Longview, Texas. Her family moved to Dallas when she was an infant but then returned to east Texas when she was six and settled in the small town of Lindale. Lambert's father, Rick, was a part-time country performer and songwriter, but the family income came mostly from the private detective agency he ran with his wife, Bev. The agency was retained at one point by a law firm defending Paula Jones, the Arkansas state employee who accused President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment before settling the matter out of court. More often, however, they offered their services to abused women, who sometimes shared the Lambert family home temporarily.
Lambert showed an instinct for singing country harmonies beginning when she was three. "As far back as I can remember I've loved music. My dad would play guitar, and I would sit on his lap and sing with him. I just grew up with it. It's in my blood," she explained to Mario Tarradell of the Dallas Morning News. Because of the dangers involved in private investigative work, Lambert and her brother, Luke, were taught to use guns when they were young. She grew up fast, registering for a concealed weapons permit after going out on the road as a performer. "I always hung out with the adults," she told About.com. "I never really was a kid. Didn't eat baby food. I was 16 by the time I was five, inside." Having private investigators for parents put a crimp in the teenage Lambert's social life: "If I tried to sneak out, they were waiting when I got there," she told Chris Willman of Entertainment Weekly.
Enthusiastic about both the modern country music of Garth Brooks and classics by the likes of Merle Haggard and the rowdy Texan songwriter Jerry Jeff Walker, Lambert was nevertheless relatively slow to begin making music herself. Her father gave her a guitar when she was 14, but she laid it aside. Two years later she finally picked it up, and then things started happening quickly. Lambert entered local competitions and did well. At 17, while still in high school, she formed the band Texas Pride, and soon she was appearing at one of Texas country music's most popular venues: the Johnny High Country Music Review in Arlington, which also helped build the career of LeAnn Rimes. Her most important contest triumph came in 2003 on the Nashville Star program, a country counterpart to AmericanIdol, where she won the round of Texas auditions for the show and finished third in the overall competition.
The family began to nurture Lambert's talent with frequent trips to Nashville, first to visit Fan Fair, then for music-business classes, and finally to make a demonstration or demo recording. They also helped Lambert finance an independent CD release, Miranda Lambert. That was where things stood in 2003 when Lambert met with executives from the giant Sony label. She actually was hoping for nothing more than a publishing contract that would give her an outlet for the large body of songs she had already written, but she strode into the room as though she was certain she was a star in the making.
A Standout Talent
"When I went in to get signed, I already had songs," she told Tarradell. "I know who I am as an artist. I'm good enough to where I feel I could put songs on an album on a major label. I said, ‘If y'all are going to try to change that or make me cut these No. 1 singles or whatever they are, I'm not going to do it. It's wasting everyone's time. I'll just go back to Texas and play in clubs.’"
The executives knew a standout talent when they saw one and signed Lambert to a contract. Her debut single, "Me and Charlie Talking," was released in 2004. It made an impression on country fans with its sad, nostalgic look back at an episode of puppy love, but when the album Kerosene appeared in 2005, the intensity of the title track and other potential single releases made country radio programmers nervous. Lambert appeared at Detroit's free Downtown Hoedown and other festivals and fairs that showcased new artists, but she received little airplay on country radio.
So it was surprising when Kerosene made its debut at number one on Billboard's country music album sales chart, a distinction normally reserved for heavily promoted albums by established stars. The album won positive reviews not only in country music publications but even in the elite New Yorker magazine. Lambert's outspoken persona earned her comparisons with another hard-hitting Texas act, the Dixie Chicks, and Lambert did nothing to soften the impact of her music. "I don't write about angels, Jesus, happy days, kids. I grew up on drinkin', cheatin', love gone bad," she explained to Willman. In the summer of 2005 Lambert toured as an opening act for Merle Haggard, one of her country idols.
Lambert also went on the road with contemporary acts such as Texas legend George Strait, Australian heartthrob Keith Urban, and rowdy kindred spirit Toby Keith, thus keeping herself in the spotlight leading up to the release of her sophomore album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Rather than relocating to Nashville or to one of the coasts, she bought a three-bedroom house in Lindale, near her childhood home, and opened a store in the tiny town's center, selling Miranda Lambert merchandise. She was, in the words of one of the songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, "Famous in a Small Town," and she remained devoted to her hometown even though, she told Willman, "It's 30 miles to the nearest beer." In May of 2007 Lambert was voted top new female vocalist by the Academy of Country Music.
For the Record …
Born on November 10, 1983, in Longview, TX; daughter of Rick (a private investigator and part-time country singer and songwriter) and Beverly (a private investigator) Lambert.
Performed in talent shows; formed Texas Pride Band at age 17; released independent CD Miranda Lambert, 2001; placed third in Nashville Star television singing competition, 2003; signed to Sony label; released single "Me and Charlie Talking," 2004; released album Kerosene, toured with Merle Haggard, 2005; toured with George Strait, Keith Urban, Toby Keith; released Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, 2007.
Awards: Academy of Country Music Awards, Best New Female Vocalist, 2007.
Addresses: Record company—Sony/BMG, 550 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10022. Website—Official Miranda Lambert Website: http://www.mirandalambert.com.
Any doubts about whether Lambert was more than an instant phenomenon disappeared that year when Crazy Ex-Girlfriend did even better than its predecessor, again topping Billboard's country album sales chart and rising to number six on the Billboard 200 chart tracking albums of all genres. The pattern was nearly the same as with Kerosene: the hard-hitting title track of the new album was rejected by radio programmers as too controversial, but album buyers got the word anyhow. Lambert did have a moderate hit later in 2007 with "Famous in a Small Town," and she was already looking to the future, at how to balance her uncompromising attitudes with a desire for longevity in the music business. "There's a way to be cool, and there's a way to make records that are hits and stay mainstream," she told Tarradell. "I think Dwight Yoakam did that, and I think the Dixie Chicks did that. I want to be one of those people. I want to be me, but I also want a lifelong career."
Miranda Lambert, independently released, 2001.
Kerosene, Sony, 2005.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Sony, 2007.
Dallas Morning News, April 30, 2007.
Detroit Free Press, May 20, 2005.
Entertainment Weekly, April 27, 2007, p. 26.
New Yorker, November 14, 2005, p. 28.
People, April 18, 2005, p. 118; Country Special ed., November 2006, p. 55; June 11, 2007, p. 133.
Philadelphia Inquirer, July 25, 2007.
USA Today, June 27, 2005, p. D3.
"Miranda Lambert," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (September 27, 2007).
"Miranda Lambert Bio," "Miranda Lambert Interview," About.com, http://www.countrymusic.about.com/od/mirandalambert/a/blmlambert_bio.htm (September 27, 2007).
Miranda Lambert Official Website, http://www.mirandalambert.com (September 27, 2007).
—James M. Manheim
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