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Crazy beautiful

Country iconoclast Miranda Lambert, whose CD Crazy Ex-Girlfriend comes out today, likes to stand by her man. Makes it easier to take aim at his cheatin' heart.

By SEAN DALY, Times pop music critic
Published May 1, 2007


Miranda Lambert is a tough-talking Texan with long blond hair and a tube-top tan. Faced with an abusive boyfriend just out of jail, she tells of lighting a cigarette, finishing her second six-pack and unloading double-barrel buckshot into her lover's cold, dark heart. "His fist is big but my gun's bigger, " she drawls.

Miranda Lambert is also a 23-year-old singer-songwriter with a vivid, hell-raising imagination. She looks like the high school cheerleader on TV's Heroes. She lives in the teeny east Texas town of Lindale, right next to her parents, both of whom are private investigators. She's sweet, polite, ambitious. She's rather rich.

And she recently killed the biggest deer of the season in the town of Abilene. It was a 155-pointer on the Boone and Crockett scale, if that means anything to you. She used a crossbow.

"The buck looks really big on my wall at home, " Lambert says, calling from a tour stop in Richmond, Va. "I was really proud, especially since it was a bow kill."

Are you ready for country music's most refreshing split personality, a woman who makes Gretchen Wilson look like Mary Poppins? Guessing where Bad Miranda ends (she's never killed a man) and Good Miranda begins (but she's sure thought about it) is the most fun to come out of Nashville since the Dixie Chicks stuffed Earl in the trunk.

Lambert's debut, Kerosene, which recently went platinum, hinted at the sexy psychopath lurking within. Praised for its blend of raucous rebellion and pure pop smarts, the album was named one of 2005's best by the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Blender and so on.

But that ain't nothin', folks. Lambert's new album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which comes out today, is a hellzapoppin' joyride dealing in blood, booze, bow-hunting and a Fatal Attraction freakout -- and that's just the first four songs.

Somewhere, Carrie Underwood is cowering in a walk-in closet.

"I'm not known for being politically correct all the time, that's for sure, " says Lambert, who wrote eight of the album's 11 songs. "I am who I am. I hunt. I eat the meat. I don't hold back in my music or everyday life."

Much like the outlaw country movement of the '70s -- or, better yet, the bullets and braggadocio of the current rap universe -- Lambert's songs are pulp-fiction fantasies, small-town dramas souped up with sex and backwoods violence. Lambert sells her revenge daydreams (many of which are inspired by her parents' P.I. stories) with endless hooks and the genuine oomph of a full-throttle backing band.

But she's not quite the Sing-Along Sociopath.

"I wouldn't actually shoot my boyfriend or burn his house down -- but I have thought about it, " Lambert says with a sinister little chuckle. "I think a lot of girls are afraid to come out and say that, but I'm not."

Outside the lines

Lambert's career commenced on Nashville Star, the USA Network's countrified take on American Idol. (She placed third in 2003.) Lambert says she's proud of her beginnings, but she's also wary of "the Nashville Star stamp."

No need to fear. With the instant classic Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Lambert leads the 2007 pack of feisty females in music. Along with Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse and Patty Griffin, Miranda excels at smart, in-your-face songs that put men in their place with humor and bite.

Even more impressive, Lambert is raising her ruckus on the country circuit, which is notorious for preaching conformity, especially to its female stars. Just ask the Dixie Chicks.

(She doesn't have any dates yet in the Tampa Bay area, though she is going on tour with Toby Keith. Stay tuned.)

For all of her contrarian ways, it should be noted that Lambert, and not her publicist, calls me on a Friday morning at the very un-rock-and-roll hour of 9:10. Bad Miranda would just be rolling in from the honky-tonk; Good Miranda, however, has a job to do. "I'm just doin' it myself this morning, " she laughs. "But I am still in bed!"

Her characters chain-smoke with the intensity of the Marlboro Man. Good Miranda, on the other hand, rarely lights up: "Being a singer, I don't want to start a habit that I probably wouldn't want to quit."

And for all the shootin', cussin' and drinkin' she does on the record, Lambert is also adept at ballads and sweeter songs. Her breakout hit, Me and Charlie Talking, detailed the ephemeral nature of young love. The new album has some sweet weepers as well, including Love Letters.

Playing with fire

But just when you think Lambert is going soft, she fires up the party. "Oh yeah, I drink, " Lambert says proudly. "I'm in a band, and a country band for that matter. I love to have fun and party. The good thing about my job is that you can work and party at the same time."

And future boyfriends beware: Lambert fully admits to being the titular crazy ex, searching "five bars, some 30 license plates" to find her wayward man and his date.

"Yeah, I've been that girl, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to write this song, " says Lambert, who has been romantically linked to country stud Blake Shelton. "I have had my moments. But girls love that song! It's their anthem. People are afraid to admit it. Who really wants to come out and say 'I'm a psycho'?"

Apparently, she does. When Lambert performed the song Crazy Ex-Girlfriend at the Country Music Awards -- punctuating her performance by smashing her guitar -- her Nashville peers looked on with dropped jaws and nervous eyes.

"That was fun, " she says.

Time will tell whether Lambert stays true to her demons or allows Music Row to clean her up. For now, she credits her fiery independent spirit to where she's from and where she's stayed: Lindale, Texas, where she shares 26 acres of land with her family.

"I have a humble little house, " she says. "It was built in the '50s. It's three bedrooms, and one big bathroom because I'm a girl. It's really peaceful."

Of course, if she gets even better with that crossbow, she'll be forced to expand her cozy little corner of the world. "Eventually, I'll have to get a new house just for my trophies, " Lambert says.

Ex-boyfriends and Bambi: Consider yourself warned.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at blogs.tampabay.com/popmusic.

 

REVIEW: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Miranda Lambert (Sony/BMG)
Grade: A