15th Artist-In-Residence: Miranda Lambert
Jul 05, 2018
ABOUT MIRANDA LAMBERT
Lambert is among the most popular and acclaimed singer-songwriters of country music’s modern era. She is the most awarded artist in the history of the Los Angeles-based Academy of Country Music, and the most awarded female artist in Country Music Association history. She is also a member of acclaimed group Pistol Annies with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley.
Since 2005, Lambert has released six albums that have gone on to achieve platinum certification. Her latest work, released in November 2016, is The Weight of These Wings, an expansive, challenging, creatively fulfilling set that was named Album of the Year by the ACM.
“We’re talking about someone who has been the CMA’s top female vocalist a record seven times, selling millions of albums and scoring hit after hit while retaining absolute artistic conviction and credibility. She writes her heart and sings her truth, and her truth resonates,” said museum CEO Kyle Young. “We are honored that she is this museum’s 15th artist-in-residence, the latest in a line of greats that includes some of Miranda’s own musical heroes, like Guy Clark, Tom T. Hall, Kris Kristofferson, and Buddy Miller.”
“The history that the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum holds is so important,” said Miranda Lambert. “It’s truly an honor to be named artist-in-residence for the museum. I’m thankful for this place, where our music can continue to be cherished, and I’m thrilled to be among the esteemed artists who have been honored by this designation.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SEPTEMBER 19 PERFORMANCE
With her cheeky humor and uncompromising artistry—and a long list of distinctive hits—Miranda Lambert regularly commands enormous arena stages in front of tens of thousands of adoring fans eager to cheer her and her music.
However, as she stepped out onto the stage of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater, in front of a sold-out crowd of less than 800, she admitted to struggling with some high anxiety. “I want to preface this show by saying, number one, I’m totally honored to be here,” she stated at the start of the first of two performances as the museum’s 2018artist-in-residence. “I’m thrilled, and I’ve also been panicking for a couple of weeks about being here.”
On this night, Lambert was drawing strength, she said, from the words of Natalie Hemby, her friend and frequent co-writer. Hemby suggested to Lambert that she get inspiration from the ghosts floating through the air in a museum that celebrates and chronicles the careers of legendary country artists, many of whom inspired Lambert’s own groundbreaking work.
As the fifteenth artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum—and, at age thirty-four, the youngest to undertake the role—Lambert joined an exclusive list of artists, many of whom created some of the most indelible music of the generation that preceded hers.
Established in 2003, the artist-in-residence series recognizes a musical master who can be credited with contributing a significant body of work to the canon of American popular music. Previous artists-in-residence, in order of their participation, include Cowboy Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom
T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, Connie Smith, Kenny Rogers, Ricky Skaggs, Alan Jackson, Rosanne Cash, and Jason Isbell. The artist-in-residence honorees are given the museum’s stages to use as a blank canvas. The museum encourages the artists to step away from their usual concert presentation to create a unique musical experience—for themselves and for their audience.
Lambert embraced that charge. “I wanted to do something different,” she explained to the CMA Theater audience. “I’ve just finished two tours this year. I thought, ‘What could we do that would be challenging and interesting?’” She landed on the concept of performing songs that she wrote and recorded but which, in most cases, had never become hits. Lambert rarely, if ever, had performed most of the set’s seventeen songs in concert, or had long ago removed them from her live repertoire. She even gave the concert a special name, calling it “The Ones That Got Away Show.”
Lambert invited four guests to join her on stage:
Rick Lambert, her father, inspired Miranda’s love of country music and helped her write some of her earliest songs. Father and daughter performed their co-written “Greyhound Bound for Nowhere,” included by Miranda on her debut album, Kerosene, in 2005.
Natalie Hemby, who has co-written more than twenty songs recorded by Lambert. They performed a few of those songs in the show, including “White Liar,” which was the first #1 hit for both when it was released in 2009.
Ashley Monroe, one of Lambert’s partners in the trio Pistol Annies, and another favorite co-writer. She has contributed songs to all of Lambert’s albums since 2009’s Revolution.
Allison Moorer, whom Lambert called a hero and major influence. Lambert told Moorer, after bringing her on stage, that Moorer’s song “A Soft Place to Fall,” released in 1998, was the first song Lambert sang before an audience. The two had never performed together prior to this concert.
The evening’s highlights included:
Written by Moorer, the moody, textured mid-tempo song proved to be a perfect vehicle for blending Moorer’s rich velvet tones and Lambert’s emotionally raw expressiveness. The subtle restraint displayed by both vocalists made the soaring choruses all the more visceral and moving. The song delves into the moment when a couple realizes their love for each other, and the two singers beautifully conveyed the explosive and soul-cleansing qualities such an epiphany have.
To their credit, Lambert and Moorer did not try to outsing one another, but instead inspired and complemented their mutual voices. The performance was a reminder of what a powerful performer and writer Moorer is—and how her lack of support from country radio a decade or two ago still seems like such a missed opportunity, or “one who got away.”
Lambert wrote this poignant song by herself and recorded it as a hauntingly powerful duet with Patty Loveless. For this performance, Lambert sat on a stool, accompanied only by her own acoustic guitar and by harmony vocalist Gwen Sebastian. The spare setting focused attention on the painful confession offered in the lyrics. A woman looks at the ring on her finger and confides a devastating secret that she has kept hidden from her husband, knowing she has broken the bond the expensive wedding ring represents. “Dear Diamond” and the hard truths it explores demonstrate perfectly why Lambert stands out among her peers in contemporary country music. Few country stars these days dare address real-life situations so boldly and directly, and with such bare artistry. This one-of-a-kind performance highlighted the song’s strengths in ways that can only be expressed live, in front of a room full of rapt listeners.
“Heart Like Mine”
Lambert did include some familiar hits in her set. This #1 song from 2011—written by Lambert with Monroe and Travis Howard—exemplifies Lambert’s fondness for songs that deal with breaking social mores in playful yet daring ways. Performed as a duet with Monroe—the duo has a spirited chemistry on stage—the song recounts the actions of a young woman who willfully thwarts the expectations of her family, her church, and her community in her determination to live as she desires. Ultimately, the singers suggest that Jesus would understand, and not condemn, the small rebellions. Lambert and Monroe traded mischievous glances and played off each other’s strutting stage moves, accentuating the liberating joy that acts of defiance can bring.
Lambert returns to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s CMA Theater on September 26 for a second sold-out residency performance. Wednesday night she proved that she has taken seriously the museum’s creative challenge, and one suspects she has more surprises in store.
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SEPTEMBER 26 PERFORMANCE
Miranda Lambert used her second appearance as artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum to reunite with the Pistol Annies. The special engagement was the trio’s first concert in five years.
Lambert acknowledged that the group is expanding. “It’s also our first show with Angaleena’s baby,” she said, as she pointed toward visibly pregnant band mate Angaleena Presley. “A future bad girl, I guess.”
A few moments earlier, the Pistol Annies —Lambert, Presley, and Ashley Monroe—had strolled out to a thunderous reception from the crowd. The musical partners shared the crowd’s excitement, elated to be on stage together once again.
The trio’s second song, a jubilant version of “Bad Example,” from their 2011 debut, Hell on Heels, brought more cheers from the capacity audience in the museum’s CMA Theater. “I’m so happy you didn’t boo us,” Monroe said. “You came out to see Miranda. What if you hated us for doing this?”
Lambert’s surprise reunion of the Pistol Annies gave the audience a one-of-a-kind musical experience, in keeping with the spirit of the museum’s artist-in-residence series.
For her first show, Lambert performed original songs that did not get heavy radio airplay, for the most part, though she did include a couple of her more familiar hits. She welcomed as guests her father, Rick Lambert; Natalie Hemby; Monroe; and Allison Moorer.
Despite Monroe’s concerns, the audience responded with love, not disappointment. Every song, including three from the trio’s upcoming third album, Interstate Gospel, drew a rowdy response. About midway through the concert, after another ovation from the audience, Monroe sounded even more appreciative when she said, “I really think this is going well, girls.”
Since the Pistol Annies last performed, the members have gone through life-changing experiences—marriages, divorces, parenthood, career highs and lows—that brought new perspectives to their songwriting. Still, the reunion concert found them doubling down on themes the Pistol Annies have emphasized all along: that it takes resolve and pointed humor for women to stand up for themselves, embrace their personal power, flaunt their individuality, accept their mistakes and flaws, and deal with men who betray and belittle them.
Those themes find their way into the solo work of each member. Together, though, the Pistol Annies celebrate the spirit of community that can exist among like-minded women. A sense of togetherness grants them a license to act more boldly and bawdily, and to share in the empowerment and joy they experience with their closest friends.
The trio played without drums or keyboards, using a four-piece band of acoustic bass, acoustic and electric guitars, and pedal steel guitar. Lambert strapped on a washboard a couple of times to add to the rhythm; she quipped that she didn’t really know how to play it but had watched a few YouTube instructional videos.
Throughout the evening, the Annies acted as if they were throwing a party and felt happy to share the fun.
The evening’s highlights included:
“Got My Name Changed Back”
Presley introduced this song by cautioning, “This isn’t about anyone we know.” After a couple of sidelong glances at Lambert and Monroe, she added, “This song definitely isn’t about anybody in this group.”
As Presley ended the introduction, the band hurtled into a fast shuffle that sped along like a down-bound train. Hard rhythms on acoustic guitar set a chugging tempo, and electric and pedal steel guitars added dark accents—sonic blasts of noise warning anyone on the tracks ahead to step off.
Lambert started snapping out lines about judges and courts before snarling the simple chorus: “I got my name changed back!” Her on-stage sisters shouted “yea, yea” in support. Lambert repeated her line, and Monroe and Presley again roared their approval.
From there, the attitude stayed playful but dripped with spite, amid references to an ex’s indiscretions, until Lambert took it upon herself to lighten up and crowed, “I broke his heart, and I took his money!” By the end of the song, all three Annies repeated the title line over and over, in old-fashioned, swinging harmony reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters.
A signature song from the Pistol Annies’ debut album, Hell on Heels, “Takin’ Pills” describes the challenges of touring in a band and trying to make ends meet on the road. The verses offer humorous detail about each member of the trio, with tongue-in-cheek references to questionable personal habits. The residency audience joined in on the choruses, as Lambert sang “one’s drinkin’,” and Presley and Monroe followed, in turn, with “one’s smokin’, one’s takin’ pills.” On the last run through, Presley rubbed her pregnant belly as she sang, “One’s not smokin’.” The line got a cheer from the crowd and a nod from her bandmates.
The trio occasionally addresses a subject seriously, as in this powerful tale of a woman who desperately wishes for a return to sobriety. Monroe’s lead vocals conveyed the pain of an addict whose struggle with recovery has left her pleading for help. With Lambert and Presley providing harmony on the chorus, the song acknowledges that there are real-life consequences to living fast and hard.
ABOUT THE ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE SERIES
Established in 2003, the museum’s artist-in-residence program honors a musical master who can be credited with contributing a large and significant body of work to the canon of American popular music. The artist-in-residence is invited to use the museum’s performance venues to create unique musical experiences.