Take away the screaming electric guitars and the rock-chick image, and I think you get the very best out of Miranda Lambert. The whole album has much more of a country influence than I was ever expecting, packed full of gorgeous stripped-back melodies and glorious storytelling. She really packs a punch when addressing the struggles of a breakup here with some of the best songs she has ever recorded. But don’t label this as a heartbreak album by any means; there are still those care-free, catchy Miranda classics to relieve the gloom.
The journey kicks off with ‘Runnin’ Just In Case’ which sets the standard for the rest of the album. You know you’re in for something special; I became lost in the stunning atmospherics from the very first note. Miranda reminds us at the end that “there’s freedom in a broken heart”, finding optimism from the depths of despair which sums up this whole project. ‘Highway Vagabond’ follows, an anthem for a touring musician co-written by Natalie Hemby, Shane McAnally and Luke Dick. Its infectious, almost funky melody with such catchy lyrics like “truck stop, rest stop, next stop Texas” will make this an instant fan favourite and it’s one she’s bound to perform live on her Highway Vagabond Tour.
It’s so difficult to pick out a highlight from part one. With the ‘Jackson’-esque Shake Russell cover ‘You Wouldn’t Know Me’, the fun and quirky ‘We Should Be Friends’ and of course, the hit single ‘Vice’, there will inevitably be differences in opinion when it comes to a stand-out. But for me, ‘Getaway Driver’, the long awaited co-write with her boyfriend Anderson East, is the one that really grabbed my attention. This sees Miranda taking on a male’s perspective ready to catch his troubled lover whenever she’s “feeling reckless” and gets “tangled in her messes”. A gorgeous, flowing, simplistic melody and a story that really pulls on the heart strings.
However, my personal favourite on the album can be found in part two. ‘Tin Man’ sees Miranda pouring out her emotions to the Wizard Of Oz character, assuring him that “if you ever felt one breaking, you’d never want a heart”. It’s probably as deep as it gets on this album, written from the perspective of someone who has given up all hope on love. “You shouldn’t spend your whole life wishin’ for something bound to fall apart”. When I heard Brandy Clark’s ‘Three Kids No Husband’ earlier this year, I thought it was a clear front runner for my song of the year. Not anymore. I honestly believe this is one of the best tracks Miranda has ever recorded. Get the tissues ready for this one, it’s a killer.
‘Things That Break’ takes Miranda into Kacey Musgraves territory with a real throwback, old-style country dancehall melody with intricate use of pedal steel. Written with song writing powerhouse Jessi Alexander and Natalie Hemby, it’s a self-reflective account, facing the fact that the person in question is prone to damaging a relationship. “I leave it all in ruins, cause I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m hard on things that matter, hold a heart so tight it shatters, so I stay away from things that break”. ‘Well Rested’ continues the traditional vibe with a Stapleton-like tempo and telecaster, and ‘To Learn Her’ is a blend of Miranda’s sublime vocals with an almost Loretta Lynn/Patsy Cline influenced backing. When I picked up this album, this was a far cry from anything I was expecting, and certainly a more welcome direction than she took with the likes of ‘Little Red Wagon’ and ‘Somethin’ Bad’. This is Miranda at her very best.
The album appropriately ends with another highway anthem, co-written with backing vocalist Gwen Sebastien and Scotty Wray. It’s essentially about leaving the past behind and “rolling on” and includes some phenomenal electric guitar riffs, completing the album with a sense of defiance and optimism. ‘The Weight Of These Wings’ will certainly be a contender for our 2016 album of the year, and that says a lot from someone who has been fairly critical of some of Miranda’s past output. The sheer quality of the whole project, from the song writing, to the intricately crafted melodies, to the sublime vocal delivery, is something that has to be commended.