Counterpoint: Miranda Lambert’s ‘The Weight of These Wings’ Is 2016’s Best New Country Album
In the last verse of “Runnin’ Just in Case” — the first song on The Weight of These Wings, Miranda Lambert‘s sixth major-label studio album — listeners get a strong taste of what to expect from the rest of the project.
“I carry them around with me, I don’t mind having scars,” Lambert sings. “Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart.”
Before Lambert released her two-disc opus on Nov. 18, fans thought they knew what it would be about: that very public divorce of hers, from another country music superstar, Blake Shelton. It would include a couple of brokenhearted ballads and a couple of girl-power, “I don’t need a man” anthems, and Lambert would top it off with a few universally applicable singles. The record would fit well within pop-country radio and include a number of tracks tailor-made for hitting the Top 40.
"On ‘The Weight of These Wings’, Miranda Lambert reveals about a dozen different sides of herself, proving that she’s infinitely more complex than the country music industry often gives her credit for while giving fans 2016’s best country album."
Fans knew just what to expect …
Boy, were they wrong.
On The Weight of These Wings, Lambert reveals about a dozen different sides of herself — gypsy rambler, country diva, heartbroken lover, to name a few — proving that she’s infinitely more complex than the country music industry often gives her credit for while giving fans 2016’s best country album. Yes, her divorce from Shelton colors a number of the album’s many (24 in total, across two discs, with Lambert earning writing credits on 20 of them!) tracks, but so do themes of grief observed, coming home and restored hope. The unifying thread of The Weight of These Wings is not the breakup heard ’round Nashville, but the vulnerability and raw honesty that Lambert unflinchingly brings to every song; she deftly navigates the stages of grief and heartbreak without directly addressing her divorce or sounding like a petty, revenge-fueled ex.
The Weight of These Wings is ambitious, to be sure; however, no song feels superfluous when listening to the album front to back. Just like life, its tracks meander through a diverse range of emotions. Whether Lambert is wishing she didn’t have a heart that could break in “Tin Man,” watching herself become an irrelevant barfly in “Ugly Lights,” finding her swagger in “Pink Sunglasses” or guardedly falling in love in “Pushin’ Time,” she’s revealing herself as a songwriter who fearlessly channels every real emotion she can to create an album that is at once intimately hers and universally relatable.
Sonically, The Weight of These Wings is a sight to behold (figuratively, of course). Although anthemic rockers such as “Keeper of the Flame” and “Covered Wagon” are ready for the arenas that Lambert is sure to sell out when it comes time for her 2017 Highway Vagabond Tour, it seems as though the singer made a concentrated effort to shy away from radio-ready hits, instead drawing from myriad musical influences to craft honky-tonk hoedowns (“To Learn Her”), Southern gospel-soul (“Dear Old Sun”) and drawling Americana (“Good Ol’ Days”), along with her signature country-rock tunes. Reverb-heavy guitars, striking drum beats and pedal steel all have their moment to shine on The Weight of These Wings, not to mention a few perfectly placed horns, strings and other interesting things.
"On ‘The Weight of These Wings’, Miranda Lambert reminds us what great female singers are capable of when they are allowed to be gritty and vulnerable and real … She reminds us what it feels like to be human."
And for her part? Lambert’s vocals may sometimes sound distorted, but in reality, she’s just choosing to sing how she sings and refusing to let Auto-Tune clean anything up … Refreshing, isn’t it? While Shelton’s own musical reflection of the couple’s breakup, If I’m Honest, was polished and radio ready, Lambert chose the more rough and less-edited path: She’s not afraid to use a curse word when the situation calls for it, and she even allows recording missteps to remain in the final version of “Bad Boy.” Those are decisions that humanize both The Weight of These Wings and Lambert, so listeners connect with it (and her) more deeply.
In a genre that’s slowly pulling itself out of the formulaic returning to the honest, The Weight of These Wings is a huge step forward. Musically, Lambert reminds us what great female singers are capable of when they are allowed to be gritty and vulnerable and real. But even more than that, she reminds us what it feels like to be human — to long for days gone by and always be itching for new things ahead, to chase something we can’t name and eventually find our way home, to have our hearts broken and still find joy in a pair of pink sunglasses. Our lives are paradoxical and disjointed and raw and chaotically beautiful … and worth singing about.
The Boot and Taste of Country’s collaborative Point / Counterpoint series features staff members from the two sites debating topics of interest within country music once per month. Check back on Jan. 20 for another installment.
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