During the restlessness of the last couple of years Miranda Lambert decided to become something she hadn’t had a chance to be for a long time: a tourist. Taking her Airstream and husband along with her she drove around the country, savouring the sights which had long since just become nothing more than blurry tour stops.
Of course this is Miranda Lambert so she didn’t exactly relax for very long. That time led to her recording the Marfa Tapes project, which in turn fed into the writing of this new album Palomino (she also released the underrated Pistol Annies Christmas album last year too). Her career as a popular mainstream performer on the country music festival circuit and live scene is cemented for life and consequently there is a sense of freedom to the music on this album which suggests she’s taking a pragmatic approach to commercial chart success (ie she tries a little but doesn’t really care about the outcome).
With the tourism theme running through the centre of the album there is a sense that she is taking a few pitstops here and there musically, without committing to anything that will tie her down. She begins with the raucous, critic-baiting ‘Actin Up’, a fun and feisty live song which I heard a preview of at C2C earlier this year. There’s nothing here that’s deep or that she didn’t say with more style on ‘Vice‘ or ‘Track Record’ but it’s fun all the same. ‘Scenes‘ too has her skipping from place to place, echoing her ‘Highway Vagabond‘ song with a breezier production sound.
The song ‘Tourist‘ (which should have been the title of this album really) has quietly profound lyrics mixing with a softer country sound that feels very Miranda and yet fresh too. ‘Strange‘ continues in a similar vein, with a catchy twangy hook offering some light relief to the lyrics about living in an uncertain and unsettled world.
Much of this album feels like a tour round her classic themes – with echoes of old songs and three new versions of previously released tracks from the Marfa Tapes. In His Arms, Waxahachie and Geraldine all deserve the second outing and are some of the strongest tracks on the record.
There’s some playful experimentation to ‘Music City Queen‘ featuring the B52s, poppy ‘Country Money‘ and the rock and roll dirge of ‘Wandering Spirit‘ even if the combination makes the album feel slightly scattershot.
More comfortable territory is the celebratory ‘I’ll Be Loving You’ and thoughtful ‘Pursuit of Happiness’. Single ‘If I Was A Cowboy‘ feels quite radical in many ways with its central refrain of ‘Mamas if your daughters grow up/to be cowboys so what?’ and queer themed video both offering a refreshingly pro LGBT sentiment, which is much needed in country music.
The ballad ‘That’s What Make the Jukebox Play‘ echoes old songs ‘Dark Bars’ and ‘They’ve Closed Down the Honky Tonks‘, offering us a familiar seat at the bar and a drink to drown our broken-hearted sorrows. ‘Carousel‘ is a tragic tale of love gone wrong and the sadness of faded fame, co-written with Luke Dick and Natalie Hemby who appear frequently in the writing credits of the album. While I appreciate the power of that collaboration, I would like to have seen a couple of solo writes on here as well just to balance out the story songs with something more intimate and unique.
Miranda’s restlessness, what she calls her pursuit of happiness, is not just a personal journey, it’s a musical one too. By refusing to remain stagnant, by constantly searching she has found joy and gratitude in her music. One thing’s for certain: Miranda won’t stay long here in Palomino, she’ll soon be off on another musical adventure, seeking the horizon, sharing what she’s found with those of us lucky enough to call ourselves fans. Until then this wistful and wise collection of wandering songs is sweet company for the road ahead.