Fresh from her triumphant headliner shows at the C2C Festival in London, Dublin and Glasgow last month, the ACM Entertainer of the Year, Miranda Lambert, returns with her eighth album, ‘Palomino’ and a burning fire that is yet to be dulled. Long time collaborators Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby feature on over half of the songs on ‘Palomino’ so their contributions need to be acknowledged upfront but it’s obvious we need to get one thing clear from the first listen to this incendiary album, if Miranda Lambert was a cowboy, she not only be the queen but she would be the god-damn queen!
‘Palomino’ is a fantastic album, channelling the best of Miranda’s commerciality from records like ‘Four the Record’ and ‘Platinum’ whilst also retaining something of the spirit and individuality of albums like ‘Weight of These Wings’ and the recent ‘Marfa Tapes’ collaboration with Jon Randall and Jack Ingram. In fact, two of the strongest songs on the album, ‘In His Arms’ and ‘Geraldine’ were written with those two writers so we must presume they came out of those ‘Marfa’ sessions but were reserved for this project. The former is dripping in Texan vibes, it’s a gentle but insistent song, simple but evocative and very cinematic in both the sweep of its ‘missing you’ lyrics and the potential for a video somewhere down the line. ‘Geraldine’, meanwhile, is one of a multitude of songs on this project that could have slotted nicely onto a Cadillac Three or ZZ Top record. The storyline and chorus is reminiscent of the Country music classic, ‘Jolene’. Indeed, the ubiquitous ‘threat’ even gets a name check before the chorus as Lambert sings, ‘You’re trailer park pretty but you ain’t no Jolene’ before telling Geraldine to back the ‘F’ off as Lambert, herself, is the only ‘bitch in the band.’ It’s fierce, fiery stuff, aggressive but massively melodic and would make for a great radio single too.
Similarly, there is a duality (echoed in both those aforementioned songs) at play that is reflected throughout the whole album. Lambert swings between swagger-filled guitar riffs and gentle, almost 70’s influenced acoustic vibes at will. ‘Actin Up’, ‘I’ll Be Lovin You’ and ‘Country Money’ are all in-your-face sass and attitude. Dripping in dirty, southern sounding guitars and massive sing along choruses. ‘Actin Up’ was debuted in London recently and proved to be a live highlight of the set whilst ‘I’ll Be Lovin You’ screams arena-singalong and radio hit with it’s rock-leaning guitars and honky tonk keys.
The flip side of all that swagger comes on songs like ‘Carousel’, ‘That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play’, ‘Tourist’ and ‘In His Arms’. These are quiet, gentler songs about love and the human condition. Lighter, breezier than some of the southern fire on offer on ‘Palomino’ but no less impactful either.
If there was a theme running through this album, a narrative that ties all the songs together it would be freedom. Freedom of spirit, of thought and of movement. Lambert, herself, is famous for her airstream trips and lifestyle and it seems to have rubbed off on her songwriting too. ‘I’ll Be Lovin You’ mentions highways, strangers and a lost love whilst songs like ‘In His Arms’, ‘Tourist’, ‘Wandering Spirit’ and ‘Waxahachie’ are all about freedom and that kind of joy that can only be found from moving on. The former, with its Sheryl Crow meets Fleetwood Mac vibes, is one of the best songs on ‘Palomino’ and sees Lambert experimenting with a slightly different, Laurel Canyon feel. ‘Pursuit of Happiness’ is cut from the same cloth but here Lambert adds a little Jerry Reed into the mix as she sings another song about running and restlessness straight from the pages of a 70’s arena rock playbook.
Big shout out must go to mid-album pleasure bringers, ‘Music City Queen’ and ‘Strange’ too. The former is all 70’s vibes and funky bass lines with a ‘rollin, rollin down the river’ backing vocal straight out of a Tina Turner song! It’s a delightful tale of a showboat on the Cumberland river and some of the people on it. ‘If you’re flashy and trashy, come on and get on,’ Lambert sings, utilising the vocals and the vibes of the B-52s as co-collaborators to massive effect during the song. ‘Strange’, meanwhile, is a darker commentary on the turbulence of modern times. It’s a well structured, melodic song with an infectious chorus in which Lambert positively growls at one point. Its clever lyrics and singalong melodies would make it a great choice for a radio single at one point too.
Final special mention must be made to Lambert’s cover of ‘Wandering Spirit’, a Mick Jagger solo song from 1993. More airstream wanderlust combined with 50’s sounding Rock ‘n’ Roll underpinned by a Gospel break out in the chorus, ‘Wandering Spirit’ encapsulates everything that Lambert is trying to achieve here on ‘Palomino’ and in a different multiverse, this would be the title of the album. It is a wonderful cover version that she makes her own. It not only defines the vibe of the album but augments her own writing and those of her chosen co-writers too.
‘Palomino’ is quite simply a master-class. It’s an album that defies to be pigeonholed in any one genre. There’s Country here, for sure, but there’s also Rock ‘n’ Roll, Blues, Gospel and even some 70’s sounding Folk too. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of Nashville meets Texas meets California. Lambert’s trademark swagger is writ large across the album as a whole but dig deeper and you’ll find stories about all of us: stories of people on the rise and of those of us on the way down. There’s happiness, there’s pain, there’s desire and there’s longing and loss too but over-arching everything, ‘Palomino’ is an album about freedom. It is destined to go down as a real legacy moment in Lambert’s career and a definite contender for ‘Album of the Year’ in the next round of award ceremonies too.
Tracklist: 1. Actin’ Up 2. Scenes 3. In His Arms 4. Geraldene 5. Tourist 6. Music City Queen feat. The B-52’s 7. Strange 8. Wandering Spirit 9. I’ll Be Lovin’ You 10. That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play 11. Country Money 12. If I Was a Cowboy 13. Waxahachie 14. Pursuit of Happiness 15. Carousel Record label: Sony Music Nashville Release date: 29th April 2022 Buy ‘Palomino’ now