September 21, 2008
It’s fire and fearlessness, it’s volatile and vulnerable and veers closer to the rootsy, rustic sounds of Americana and the raucous rhythms of rock music than most mainstream Nashville releases do. Kerosene, the introduction to Texas born-and-bred singer-songwriter Miranda Lambert, is a high-octane set with its share of both sweet ballads and hard-rocking uptempo numbers. This debut album establishes a musical identity, and while there’s room for growth, it fits nicely among the finest major-label efforts of the decade. Her brimming-with-attitude singing is the stuff of which great country records can be made, and the production of Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke prompts Lambert’s voice into remaining sturdy even as she chronicles a young woman’s trials and troubles.
Borrowing liberally from Steve Earle’s “I Feel Alright”, the title track crackles with great energy and rage. As Lambert admonishes her man for his cheating ways, the sheer importance of her message builds with great intensity, assisted by an electric guitar that squeals with urgency. Blurring the line between fury and insanity, Lambert holds a grudge like nobody’s business. A three-minute metaphor for romantic frustration, the song’s brilliant in its bite.
Lambert’s no stranger to a clever turn of a phrase, and the sassy, brash way that she tackles the tracks on this collection show a real feel for country music’s basic lovin’ and leavin’ themes. The one small weakness on Kerosene is its ballads. Save “Bring Me Down”, a left-of-center slow song that builds into a begging-for-more chorus, Lambert just misses when she slows the pace. Although she’s quite capable of pulling off slow songs such as “Greyhound Bound for Nowhere” (a plaintive ballad adorned with an acoustic setting) and “Love Your Memory”, they’re not quite as lyrically compelling when surrounded by a number of more powerful ripostes of love gone wrong.
Another example of the need for a narrowing focus is the first single. “Me and Charlie Talking” is a well-written ode to young love, but it doesn’t quite meld with the rest of the album’s vision, that of a determined young woman who loves the thrill of the chase despite its challenges. The potential exists, though, to expand on this songwriting vein, and Lambert imbues all of these tracks with an honesty that suggests the material will soon match the performance. This ability, to be susceptible in love’s wake and understand the heartache behind her volatile emotions, makes Kerosene a more diverse album than the hard-charging, rock-tinged numbers suggest.
But of course, Lambert gives as good as she takes on a number of the album’s best tracks. The only one she didn’t have a hand in writing, “I Can’t Be Bothered”, is a neat Texas shuffle that shows off her sharp wit, and it exhibits a hint of desperation in her drawl. But ultimately, she’ll go down swinging furiously. And “What About Georgia” is a wise-beyond-her-years story about a man whose grand design is to disappear from his troubles, an idea that Lambert herself never wants to entertain, choosing instead to clash with any challenge in her path. Feisty and fearless, her voice is gritty and unwavering, and her sense of self is the deciding factor on Kerosene.
Miranda Lambert possesses a wide range of vocal talent, able to delicately maneuver around moving-on songs such as “Mama, I’m Alright” and “New Strings.” She’s a young woman with a master plan, a state map and a tank of gas, and Lambert fills this role with a real purpose. Her future travels are sure to be of great interest to the country music audience. Kerosene is an appetizing debut that promises a wealth of success for the seemingly fearless singer.