Source Material: Miranda Lambert's 'Platinum'
by Chuck Eddy | December 24, 2014
It would not be outlandish to suggest that in 2014, no other human being released an album as good as Miranda Lambert's Platinum. Whether any of Lambert's previous albums were as great as this one remains to be determined -- her first and second came close -- but probably not. It's also a very funny record, not to mention as musically varied as any album to come out of Nashville in the past decade, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another brandishing so much sailor's language. On top of all that, it's the first Lambert collection to top Billboard's album chart (the big one -- not just the country one). And while some of its musical inspirations are likely to remain mysterious, others are spelled out for everyone to see.
For instance, there's that Waylon Jennings T-shirt Lambert wears in two different shots in the CD booklet. There are a couple variations on the line "Why you think we all drink? Why you think we all smoke?" in "Hard Staying Sober," itself an unmistakable variation on a famous line in Hank Williams Jr.'s "Family Tradition." And there's closing song "Another Sunday in the South," basically an update of Shenandoah's 1989 country-chart topper "Sunday in the South" that explicitly also name-drops pop country band Restless Heart, Pam Tillis' "Shake the Sugar Tree," and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Fishin' in the Dark," among other '80s/'90s hits.
Lambert's fellow Pistol Annie Ashley Monroe helped write both that track and "Holding On to You," more or less a Bonnie Raitt imitation. So Monroe clearly deserves some source-material credit, as does her fellow 2013 breakout artist Kacey Musgraves, given that they both sort of upped the ante in regards to what a 21st-century feminist country album could be, so that Lambert could up the ante even more in turn. Lone Star Annie's husband, Blake Shelton, seems to have helped inspire several of the songs, not necessarily in the most faithful manner if tabloids are to be trusted, so he's here too. "Between the whistle calls and the Southern dolls it's enough to put a home through hell," Lambert confesses in "Priscilla," likening her plight to that of the woman who once wed Elvis; hence, Elvis' own marital strife lament "Separate Ways" seems appropriate. Given the rockabilly bent of "Priscilla," so does "I Wore Elvis' Ring" by Wanda Jackson and an untamed raver by '40s proto-rockabilly country boogie vixen Ella Mae Morse.
Morse — like Lambert, a "Texas girl with sinful bosom and voice aflame," Nick Tosches wrote once — might stand as a progenitor of the vaudeville burlesque, show-blues hootchie-kootchie in Platinum's "Gravity Is a B*tch," too. She counts as one of the few female singers to emerge from western swing, a style Lambert pulls off handily in her new "All That's Left" — which, written by Tom T. Hall and previously recorded by the Virginia sextet Big Country Bluegrass (both represented here), also seems to be Platinum's only actual cover song. Lambert has said she heard it on the radio on her way home from a Beyoncé concert. And given how she slings more urban than rural slang, like "I feel ya" and "you can't step to my backyard swagger," it's no surprise Lambert's been listening to Ms. Knowles, who is yet another Texas girl after all. Ella Mae Morse, as the spoken opening to her "House of Blue Lights" makes clear, did something similar with African American slang almost 70 years ago.
Lambert's backing band on her version of "All That's Left" is Nashville's Time Jumpers, so they're on this playlist, too, along with more conventional collaborators Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood. The Underwood duet, "Somethin' Bad," is unabashed late '80s/early '90s hair metal, with yelps out of Aerosmith's "Rag Doll" and glam stomp from Warrant's "Cherry Pie." "Little Red Wagon" opts for leaner, meaner rock — you might even detect some "Blitzkrieg Bop" in its more pogo-able parts. And The Ramones are also probably somehow deep ancestors of the art-noise guitar that kicks off Platinum's most experimental track, "Two Rings Shy."
What inspired the Dixieland circus jazz in the rest of "Two Rings Shy" is one of the mysteries forewarned above, but its mood and big-top metaphors aren't too far from, say, Leon Russell's 1972 hit "Tight Rope." So that's also in this mix, as are country foremothers Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton, navigating rocky conjugal terrain just like Lambert does for much of Platinum. She's in their class now, and what doesn't kill her only makes her stronger.