Her songs are played widely and often on modern country radio, but Miranda Lambert operates from slightly outside the mainstream and has become something of a rarity in mainstream country: a female singer who writes most of her own material.
Raised in Longview, Texas, between Dallas and the Louisiana border, she infuses her work with elements of her rearing, writing songs about her girlhood home, her religious upbringing, her boyhood crushes and teenage romances, her broken hearts, her smoking and drinking, and her ways with a shotgun. Much of her music bears the sounds of her idols and influences, from Emmylou Harris to Steve Earle in both his “Guitar Town” and “Copperhead Road” phases. Some of it absorbs the styles of the songwriters she covers: Gillian Welch, Julie Miller, John Prine. All of it makes her the rare country singer who writes most of her own material, and first-rate material at that.
Friday night, Lambert headlined a show at the Sprint Center. It was her first headlining show at Sprint and her second arena show here in 18 months. In November 2010, she nearly sold out the Independence Events Center.
She drew about 10,000 fans on Friday. The upper deck was closed, but the rest of the place was nearly full. The larger room didn’t do her any favors. Lambert doesn’t bring a lot of visuals, and from the faraway seats she felt remote, diminished. It didn’t help, either, that the sound could have used a few more coats of luster.
She brought a lot of good songs, though, and she played plenty of them. She opened with “Fastest Girl in Town,” a rock song about a girl hell-bent on having some dirty fun. She followed that with “Kerosene,” an infamous revenge song from her debut album.
Lambert is known for those kinds of empowerment anthems in which the cheater or abuser gets what he deserves; she would also play the incendiary “Gunpowder and Lead.” She can pull those off because she has a big voice and she plays a hearty rhythm guitar, but her ballads are becoming her strength.
“Over You” is one of those, a hymn she wrote with her husband, Blake Shelton, to someone who died unexpectedly. So is “Dead Flowers,” a eulogy for a romance dying on the vine: “He ain’t feeling anything / My love, my hurt or the sting of this rain / I’m living in a hurricane” She didn’t write “The House That Built Me,” but its tender, bittersweet sentiments fit in with her own.
In the middle of her set, Lambert was joined by Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, her partners in the trio the Pistol Annies. They address similar themes — how to be a bad girl (“Bad Example”), for example — but their sound is more traditional. At times they resemble the Dixie Chicks in their “Home” phase.
That interlude and the changes in style — from rock anthems to country ballads and hillbilly reels — made for a show with a dynamic pace, one that kept the crowd engaged all night. Lambert is only 28, but she’s been around for seven years and she has developed a large, loyal fan base.
The end of the show was stocked with covers, including a version of “Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo” that the crowd enjoyed but was too straight to be interesting. Better was her cover of Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery,” which came a few songs after a rowdy cover of his “That’s the Way That the World Goes Round.” For her finale, she brought out Monroe, Presley and her two openers, Chris Young and Jerrod Niemann, and they all threw down a raucous version of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”
It was fun and it sent the crowd home in a good mood, but it was an odd sendoff from a songwriter who still had plenty of her own material in her arsenal. I’d have preferred leaving with another one of those Texas tales in mind instead of someone else’s song about a hobo.