“The Weight of These Wings” was an important album for Miranda Lambert, topping Billboard’s country chart on its way to winning Album of the Year at the American Country Music Awards, her fifth consecutive release to do, in 2017.
But there’s a reason she used “weight” in the title.
Much of the album was inspired by her very public divorce from fellow country superstar Blake Shelton.
And as she toured on the album, she found that those songs were “not easy to transition into a live show,” especially arena shows.
“You know, people are there to forget their troubles and party and have a great time,” she said.
“And I do have some really faithful fans who want to hear all of them — a new (song), a ballad, whatever it is. But ‘The Weight of These Wings’ was very ballad-heavy and pretty heavy lyrically. So I needed to lighten up a bit. That was important to me on this record.”
Lambert was referring to her latest effort, “Wildcard,” which became the singer’s seventh album in a row to top the Billboard country charts in November 2019.
“I’m so proud of ‘The Weight of These Wings,'” she said. “I needed to make that record. And I know that the people that needed to hear it heard it. That’s all you can ask for as a songwriter. But it’s also like, ‘All right. Did that. Got through it. Next.'”
And then, she laughed.
How Miranda Lambert builds a setlist
Lambert was on the phone the morning after launching the “Wildcard” tour in Mississippi, where she opened with one of her favorite songs on the album and went on to play another seven highlights from it.
The official tour is 27 dates. But she’s also performing in Scottsdale as part of the Coors Light Birds Nest Concert Series at the Phoenix Open on Wednesday, Jan. 27, an appearance that’s not listed as part of the tour on Lambert’s website.
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“Usually after the first night of the tour, I tweak the setlist pretty good,” she said. “We rehearse with it. But without a crowd there to tell you if it sucks or not, you don’t know, you know what I mean? So I rely on them big time to tell me where we need to go. That’s why I was late today, actually. I was having a meeting with my band leader to tweak the setlist.”
That’s always an important conversation as they head out on a tour, she said.
“You don’t want to lay a whole record on somebody that’s not heard it. Especially nowadays because people don’t go buy the CD and put it in and live on it for a month like we used to.”
She laughed. “But there’s also the school of thought of if we don’t play them live, how are they gonna hear them? So I spread them out and, a couple of them are recognizable from streaming and being a single but it’s still just like playing a brand new song for the crowd. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
Why ‘Tequila Does’ is a throwback to her honky-tonk roots
This album seems to lend itself to playing live.
“Especially ‘Tequila Does,’ ‘Pretty Bitchin” and ‘White Trash,'” Lambert said. “Those are always fun to play.”
She said “Tequila Does” has been her “baby” on this album cycle.
“Actually Ashley Monroe from Pistol Annies, we’ve been best friends since she was, I don’t know, 18 and I was 20,” Lambert said. “She said to me one night, ‘When you sing “Tequlia Does,” you come absolutely more alive than I’ve ever seen you.'”
Lambert figured that’s because it takes her back to what made her want to be a country singer in the first place.
And she doesn’t mean tequila.
“It’s a honky-tonk country song,” she said. “It sounds like Texas. And that’s where my heart lives and dies is some dark bar somewhere playing a honky tonk song. So whether I’m on an arena stage or TV or in a dive bar, that’s where my heart lives.”
Last year, Lambert brought Monroe and fellow Pistol Annie member Angaleena Presley out to join her on a handful of the trio’s songs each night.
“It’s such a fun project,” she said of performing with Pistol Annies. “And it’s such a relief for us three girls. We’re all solo artists on our own, but it’s definitely a different mood. The whole project is kind of like, you know, we’re brave in numbers. So I love it. It’s a blast.”
‘I’ve based my whole career on being honest’
One thing that comes across on any Lambert tour is the human behind the hits. It’s why it was so hard for her to tour on an album that drew so heavily on her divorce. And it’s a huge part of what fans have been connecting to since Lambert’s breakthrough album, “Kerosene.”
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But that can be a blessing and a curse.
“I think sometimes it makes it harder,” Lambert said. “If I’m going through something, they know it because No. 1, I write about it. And No. 2, you can see it on my face. When I’m up there, when I was having a kind of dark time in my life, I just tell the crowd, ‘I’m sorry, y’all, I’m having a rough one.’ I’d rather be honest. I mean, I’ve based my whole career on being honest.”
Luckily, on this tour and this album, she’s honestly doing much better.
“My truth is a lot happier,” she said. “And I’m hoping that’s also encouraging people that have gone through something hard or are going through something hard and painful. Like, look, I’m smiling again. You will live. It actually all does come out in the wash.”
What happens when critical acclaim and art meet commercial country
In addition to topping Billboard’s album chart with “Wildcard,” Lambert was named Artist of the Year at the 20th annual Country Music Critics’ Poll, a survey of music journalists around the world. It was her fifth time winning that award.
According to the Nashville Scene, no artist has been honored more times in that poll than Lambert. She’s won Album of the Year three times, Best Single three times and Female Vocalist of the Year eight times, also winning Album of the Year and Best Group for her work with Pistol Annies.
That kind of critical consensus is a rare commodity, especially sustained over a stretch of 13 years of chasing trends. But Lambert said that kind of critical acclaim has two sides.
“I’ve really walked this very fine line throughout my career of commercial country music and having critical acclaim and having that art part right out front,” she said. “And it’s not easy, especially now, because I’ve done it for a really long time and the whole industry is changing by the day. So part of it is relief, and part of it is, where do I go from here? How do I reinvent? What do I do next? How do I keep my spot?”
Those are questions Lambert feels she needs to ask herself, she said, “that no one really tells you when you’re 19 and you’re guns a-blazing. Once you meet your goal in life, OK, now what?”
‘I just really want to be heard’
That critical consensus hasn’t always translated at country radio, where female artists seem to have a harder time finding their way into heavy rotation.
“It’s been a career-long conversation and a lot of stress,” she said of courting country airplay. “When it works, it works. And I’m still trying to fight that battle literally as we speak. I have a new single that just went to radio, ‘Bluebird,’ so who knows?
The album’s first single, “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” hit No. 12 on Billboard’s country chart.
“So I was pleased with that,” the singer said. “You know, I’ll take it. The crowd doesn’t know what the number was on a chart. They just know if they’ve heard it.”
And to Lambert, that’s what ultimately matters.
“I just really want to be heard,” she said. “It’s not about No. 1. I mean, that’s nice. But it’s more about I want to be in people’s lives, I want to be in their kitchens and on their car radios because that’s how we bond, that’s how they come to the shows and that’s how I have a job, you know?”
The story behind ‘Wildcard’
She named the album “Wildcard,” she said, in honor of a lyric and a new tattoo.
“I got a tattoo in October of a wildcard up my sleeve, the queen of hearts, kind of to remind me to be the queen of my heart sometimes,” she said. “And it’s also based on a lyric from a song I covered on my second record.”
That song, “Easy From Now On,” includes the lyric, “When the morning comes and it’s time for me to leave, don’t worry about me; I’ve got a wild card up my sleeve.”
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After quoting the lyric, Lambert said she was always was really drawn to that one.
“It hit me so hard because it’s kind of like the same phrase my mom would say my whole life,” she said. “Sometimes you gotta pull a rabbit out of a hat, you know? I kind of live by that.”
She was thinking of that lyric when she started writing songs for “Wildcard.”
“As I started writing ‘Bluebird,’ that line kept haunting me and I was like, ‘We can say it again. It needs to be said again to remind people,’ you know? You can pull a wildcard out when you need to, to get yourself in a different place. Then it just felt like the right title.”
She also has a superstition about one-word titles.
“All my one-word titles, those albums have really done different things for my career than the others,” she said. “So I knew I wanted a one-word title. And ‘Wildcard’ just fit.”
WATCH Miranda Lambert Says Bandmates Secretly Set Her Up With Husband | Fast Facts VIDEO BELOW:
When: 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29.
Where: TPC Scottsdale, 17020 N. Hayden Road.
Details: 800-745-3000, coorslightbirdsnest.com.
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Bless Your Heart!