Miranda Lambert has gotten a lot of mileage out of a whiskey-fueled, gun-toting persona that’s made her one of the most consistently winning voices in modern pop-country. And while she still indulges that persona to rollicking effect on Four The Record, her fourth album reveals a deeper, more genuine sort of confidence that manifests in some of the most interesting, unexpected songs of her career. From the quirky images of a big-top wedding and cross-dressing congressman that open “All Kinds Of Kinds” to the sexy, fuzzed-out country blues of “Fine Tune” to the beautifully forlorn Gillian Welch/David Rawlings cover “Look At Miss Ohio,” Lambert proves that her willingness to color outside the lines of country-music convention goes beyond lyrical statements of bad-assitude.
But Lambert is still a top-notch badass when she wants to be, particularly on the rowdy “Fastest Girl In Town” (co-written, unsurprisingly, with her Pistol Annies cohort/fellow shit-kicker Angaleena Presley) and the breakup anthem/tantrum “Mama’s Broken Heart,” which Lambert delivers with a ferocity bordering on punk. The album’s first single, “Baggage Claim,” is a more forced, gimmicky take on Lambert’s signature sass that feels like a hollow attempt to recreate previous hits, an unfortunate bit of regression on a record that for the most part focuses on growth.
The bevy of writers and co-writers guiding Lambert results in a ranging, not especially cohesive album that makes up for the occasional dud (the schmaltzy power ballad “Better In The Long Run,” a duet with Lambert’s husband Blake Shelton) with plenty of solid earworms (the catchy mid-tempo “Safe”) and a couple of welcome left turns (the loping, back-porch sing-along “Easy Living”). Most importantly, Lambert manages to sell it all with vocals that are self-assured and filled with personality, indicating that she’s having fun playing in this new, bigger sandbox.