After a run of seven solo albums
that holds its own against any artist in recent (or even distant)
memory, Miranda Lambert took the weirdness of the pandemic as an
opportunity to throw us her first real curveball: The Marfa Tapes, a collaborative full-length effort with songwriting friends Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, released in the spring of 2021.
Marfa—named after the famously artsy West Texas
town—brought out a new look for Lambert. Stocked with raw recordings of
tunes performed informally on acoustic guitars (and that’s about it), it
showcased her softer side and shined a light on her songwriting, which
is currently unparalleled in country music—and beyond. Animal sounds and
the crackle of a campfire in the background only added to the project’s
warm, intimate and inviting feel.
You won’t hear those kinds of ambient details on Palomino,
Lambert’s ninth album and a return to the shit-kicking sound for which
she’s known. At 15 tracks long, it’s a smorgasbord of Lambert
specialties: traditionalist country, vivid character sketches, revved-up
rock guitars, double-take turns of phrase, pop curiosity, place names
and incredible consistency. It may not be her best album, but it is a
very worthy entry in what is quickly becoming one of the best recorded
catalogs in music. Period.
Three of the songs on Palomino are Marfa Tapes
holdovers with new coats of paint: “In His Arms” is now wrapped in gauzy
guitars and echo, “Waxahachie” gets a full arrangement that transforms a
sad, solo acoustic tune into a surefire country radio hit, and
“Geraldene”—a refurbishment, sort of, of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” that
trades the original’s anxiety for defiance—benefits from its swaggering
Elsewhere, Lambert tries out a number of styles and sounds, from
the rubbery funk guitars that drive “Actin’ Up” and the shimmering
atmosphere of “If I Was a Cowboy” to the slow-burning folk of album
closer “Carousel” and the gospel choir handclaps and vocals that power a
cover of the 1993 Mick Jagger deep cut “Wandering Spirit.” There’s even
a collaboration with The B-52’s called “Music City Queen” that brings
together a swampy Southern groove and disco vibes. While it’s fun—and
it’s always good to hear The B-52’s doing B-52’s things—it feels like a
case where the idea was better than the execution.
But back to “Wandering Spirit” for a moment. Buried near the end
of Jagger’s unexceptional third solo album, it may seem like an odd
choice for Palomino’s only cover. Until, that is, you listen
closely to the lyrics and realize Jagger somehow wrote Miranda Lambert’s
theme song decades ago. The key passage is simple: “I’m a wandering
spirit / And I’m a restless soul.”
Lambert has always written songs about leaving one place and
heading somewhere else (or nowhere in particular), but never more so
than on Palomino, where she mentions (deep breath) the Mojave
Desert, Colorado, California, Lake Havasu, South Dakota, Reno and Las
Vegas, Santa Monica, Alameda, Biloxi, Shreveport and the Cumberland
River, plus El Paso, Dallas, San Antonio and Amarillo, Texas (exhale).
And that’s just the first half of the album!