Do not be misguided by her dimpled smile, her blue eyes and her tender years. Miranda Lambert demands respect as a serious artist.
"I don't want my music to be taken as something you just hum along with," says the Sony newcomer. "No matter what I'm singing, I want to say something that makes people think. I want people to hear my songs and feel something. I want to be appreciated as someone whose music is REAL. I want to be thought of as a true artist, not just as an 'entertainer.'"
Miranda Lambert's debut major-label CD states her case clearly. She proves to be not only a dazzling vocalist on this country showcase, but a major songwriter as well...
"Kerosene" is a rough, pounding, jangling country-rocker about being fed up with romance. "There's a Wall" is a stunning power ballad of a crumbling relationship. The thumping, chiming, rousing "What About Georgia" points an accusing finger at a wandering lad. On the sweet and gentle "Love's Looking for You" Lambert is tenderly philosophical. On the ballad "Love Your Memory" she's wistful and heartbroken.
All five of these top-drawer songs are her solo compositions. All five were written when she was between 17 and 20 years old. Few songwriters in country-music history have demonstrated such uncommon insight at such a young age as Miranda Lambert does in these five extraordinary works.
There's more. "Bring Me Down" is a complex blur of conflicting emotions. The expressive "Greyhound Bound for Nowhere" conjures up broken dreams and lonely misery. Innocent nostalgia is the hallmark of "Me and Charlie Talking." The bopping "Mama I'm Alright" is about a small-town girl leaving home and trying to be strong. The edgy, stomping "I Wanna Die" plunges headlong into a dangerous relationship. These five showcase Lambert's talents as a songwriter in collaborations.
Proof of her interpretive skill is demonstrated in her headstrong, in-your-face delivery of the honky-tonk shuffle "I Can't Be Bothered." Like the rest of her album, this recording has an unmistakably tangy Texas taste.
Miranda Lambert's Texas roots run deep. Texans are generally noted as forthright and bold, and she has those qualities in her personality. Texas fans like their country music straight-up and strong, and so does she. Texas has provided more major talents to the country scene than any other state. Add Miranda Lambert's name to that long list.
Born in 1983, she is a native of Lindale, population 2,500. Located about 80 miles east of Dallas, it's the kind of town where high-school football rules fall Friday nights and folks sit on their front porches making music. Or at least the Lamberts did. Papa Rick Lambert is a country guitarist and songwriter who gathered friends and neighbors often to his rural home. During the week, he and Miranda's mother Bev run a detective agency. But country music is the heart of the household on weekends.
"We always had tons of people at our house," recalls Miranda Lambert. "It's just an old farmhouse. My friends who lived in the city had swimming pools and four-wheelers and all that. We lived out in the country with a vegetable garden. Yet they were always going, 'Let's go to your house!' I would think, 'Why?' Now I realize that it was because at my house it was so homey. We took in just everybody.
"I always hung out with the adults. I never really was a kid. Didn't eat baby food. I was 16 by the time I was 5, inside. I think that's where my 'old soul' comes from.
"I grew up on the songs of Guy Clark, Jerry Jeff Walker, Merle Haggard and my dad. We had music parties at our house on the front porch all the time. I was 10 years old and in the third grade when my parents took me to Dallas to see Garth Brooks. It was awesome. There I was in my braces screaming, 'Gaaaarrrth!' I was freakin' out."
She was so inspired that when she returned home to Lindale, she entered her first country talent contest. Accompanied by her father, Miranda Lambert made her public debut singing Holly Dunn's hit "Daddy's Hands." Her bedroom was soon decorated with country-star photos. She began annually attending Nashville 's Fan Fair festivities at age 13 and was soon an avid autograph collector. At age 14, her father bought her a guitar, but to his surprise, she expressed no interest in the instrument. That would soon change.
Miranda Lambert was 16 when she heard of the Tru-Value country talent contest. She entered and placed well in the Texas competition. She began appearing on the Johnny High Country Music Review in Arlington , near Ft. Worth , the same show that helped launch LeAnn Rimes. She attended a music-business seminar in Nashville , which led to a "demo" recording session.
"This guy had these four country-pop songs, and I stayed up half the night learning them. I went in the studio, did these four songs and started bawling. I hated them. I was going, 'What am I singing? What is this saying?' I went back home and said, 'Dad, I think I'll take you up on that guitar lesson.' Dad taught me three chords, and I wrote my first song that first day. I thought, 'This is more like it.' Of course it was a terrible song, but at least it wasn't pop-country.
"After I found out that I could actually do that, I just got so interested in it. I practiced four hours a day until my fingers would bleed. It came so naturally it was like sunbeams shining down on me. I always had to work at everything else. I never excelled in sports. In cheerleading, I was the last to learn the dance. I was terrible at school if I made B's and C's my family was thrilled and jumping up and down. But with music it was, 'THIS is what I am supposed to be doing.'"
She was inspired by the examples of singer-songwriters like Jack Ingram, Allison Moorer, Guy Clark and Emmylou Harris. Seeing how passionate their daughter was about music, Rick and Bev Lambert gave her their full support. Bev began researching talent contests. One in Dallas led to a contract with an agency that got her a small part in a Ruffles potato chip ad and work in the 2001 teen comedy movie "Slap Her She's French." In Nashville, she came in second out of 400 who competed for the role of Tammy Wynette in the musical "Stand By Your Man."
At age 17, Miranda Lambert formed her Texas Pride band and landed her first professional singing engagement. It was in Dallas at Deep Elum's Gypsy Tea Room. Closer to home, she earned the "house band" job at the legendary Reo Palm Isle Ballroom in Longview while she was still attending high school. Built in the 1930s and having showcased everyone from Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson, it is the oldest continuously operated ballroom in Texas .
"My parents were shocked about how passionate I was about it. But they basically dropped everything and just gave it everything they had. I learned so many songs. I learned how to deal with fans and drunks. It was a crash course, and I had to learn really fast."
In 2001, papa Rick funded a $2,000 CD showcasing his daughter's songs. Little brother Luke created a web site to sell it. Mama Bev drove her to radio stations to promote it and called clubs to get her bookings. The family invested in a motor home, a sound system and an equipment trailer. Starring in "Annie Get Your Gun" was one of Miranda Lambert's last high-school activities. She graduated early to devote herself to music full time.
"This is my college," she says. "I can't study in a book what I've learned just being out there and doing it. At first, it was hard to break in, because the clubs believed chicks don't draw. Plus, they're expecting you to get up there and sing 'Broken Wing.' I don't do that. I'm a guitar player and a writer."
She toured on her home state's music circuit throughout 2002 and placed two songs from her CD on the Texas music charts. In January 2003 Miranda Lambert entered another talent contest. She finished first in the Texas auditions for the nationally telecast "Nashville Star" competition. The teen left home for the first time and moved to Nashville to appear on the TV series. Out of 8,000 initial contestants, she finished third on the show's finale five months later. She harmonized with winner Buddy Jewell on his Sony CD. On Sept. 15, 2003 she became a Sony artist, herself.
"I always say that 'Nashville Star' saved me from five more years in the honky tonks. But I was still scared to death to sign that recording contract. I was afraid they'd change me. I was worried they'd take my songs that didn't sound like anyone else's and produce them just like the next record down the street. I did not want it to be the typical Nashville record. I have my own style. I want to be my own person. There are a million blonde chicks who can sing. I've always wanted to be different.
"We had a meeting. All the Sony people were there. I sat down at the head of the table, crossed my hands and said, 'OK, this is who I am.' And I just laid it out. 'I'm from Texas. I write my own stuff. I have something to say. I'll never dance around on stage in a halter top. I will always play my guitar. Now, if I can't make a record that reflects me honestly, I'd rather just go home and play in Texas like I was. So please tell me now if you're going to be bossing me around.' [Label chief] John Grady said, 'You go make your record.' Nobody came to the studio. Nobody threw songs at me. A few months later, I played them the tracks. They said, 'You did an amazing job.'
"This can't be real. It's been such an easy road. This whole pathway has been laid out brick by brick. That's why I know I'm meant to do this. I'm so excited. I feel like I'm really where it's all starting to happen."