I got into country music in a big way last year, starting with Ashley Monroe‘s Like a Rose and Kacey Musgraves‘ Same Trailer Different Park in March and Pistol Annies‘ Annie Up two months later. Musgraves made the big splash at the Grammys — she was nominated for Best New Artist and took home Best Country Album and Best Country Song — and Monroe was really country‘s MVP of 2013 — she’s one of the three Pistol Annies — but Miranda Lambert is unquestionably the heaviest hitter of the three. And that’s just when considering her solo stuff — like Monroe, she’s a Pistol Annie (Angeleena Presley is the third). Lambert has been doing great work for years now, ever since her appearance on the 2003 edition of a countrified clone of American Idol called Nashville Star catapulted her to a record deal with Sony. Five albums in now with Platinum, she’s as good as ever — she’s like the Adele of country music.
When the dust settled after the rock & roll explosion of the ’50s and ’60s, and big business started assuming control in the ’70s and ’80s, we finally had enough perspective after recognizing patterns occur on a national scale. The most popular American band turned out to be the Eagles; somehow their music was laid back enough to appeal to west coasters, and mined enough of the southwestern sound to appeal to America’s heartland at the same time. This was confirmed when the RIAA presented the band with a plaque for releasing the bestselling album of the 20th century, Their Greatest Hits: 1971-1975. When the band reunited in the ’90s, they were as popular as ever. Somehow their particular balance of country and rock (at least in the early years) struck the right chord, and I have noticed that Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert in particular (Ashley Monroe‘s a little more traditional) present their music in a pop-friendly manner with an Eagles-y breeze.
In fact, I did a double take when I heard the first single on Platinum, “Automatic,” since it cops the Eagles‘ “Learn to Be Still” from their Hell Freezes Over reunion album so directly it’s kind of shocking that (to my knowledge) no one else aside from me has picked up on it. (Compare the two and tell me with a straight face that you can easily tell the songs apart at the start.) That being said, “Automatic” is the better song — if I remember correctly from the Hell Freezes Over DVD, “Learn to Be Still” was written so close to the taping of their performance that Don Henley forgot the lyrics midway through (it’s an outtake that can be seen during the closing credits) — and turns out to be one of Platinum‘s highlights anyway. Second single “Somethin’ Bad” featuring Carrie Underwood is certainly a puzzler, since it bears such a close resemblance to “Pour Some Sugar on Me” by Def Leppard at the open that it’s actually pretty startling.
It’s not really a natural fit for Miranda and is probably the album’s weakest track (“Babies Makin’ Babies” is the other contender), but it also illustrates the depth of character in Lambert‘s music, and in Platinum in particular. In the Nashville scene, albums tend to be shorter and usually clock in around 30 minutes. (Ashley Monroe‘s Like a Rose was a perfect example of this last year.) Well, Platinum is about 60 minutes — it’s a double album, in other words. 16 tracks long, Platinum falls neatly into four sides of four — though ironically enough, the album wasn’t released on vinyl — and though it may take a few listens to conquer its great sprawl, it’s easily one of the richest and best albums of 2014. It’s a tad scattershot, but the material here is strong, aside from a couple tracks I already mentioned, and some of the best tracks — particularly “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” and “Holding On to You” — are knockouts.
(Trivia for you: two of the three co-writers of “Smokin’ and Drinkin'” are Luke Laird and Shane McAnally, who produced Kacey Musgraves‘ Same Trailer Different Park and, between the two of them, co-wrote every song on that album. Also, one of the three co-writers of “Holding On to You” is none other than Ashley Monroe.)