By Jof Owen
Palomino revels in the idea of how good it feels to not be tied down to anything or anyone, to always be passing through the world and all the possibilities it becomes rich with when you do.
“I got my own kind of country… kind of funky”, Miranda Lambert teases on album opener ‘Actin’ Up’, but “kind of funky” feels like she’s humbly underselling the sheer idiosyncratic brilliance of the sound that brings so much of Palomino to life.
It feels like she’s always been carefully perfecting the recipe for her unique cocktail of country traditionalism and crunchy country rock, and her ninth studio album adds the most delicious ingredient yet: weirdness; making for an intoxicating mix.
‘Actin’ Up’ is spacey, minimalist and beautifully strange - with more than a passing resemblance to David Essex’s equally bizarre 70s hit ‘Rock On’ - her dry Texan drawl bouncing around in the mix as it echoes back through the emptiness of the sound, stuttering and tripping up over itself as it goes.
‘Scenes’ widescreens the glam-rock swagger and swampy dub of the opener and finds Miranda in familiar territory back on the road; a place she always seems to return to whenever it feels like life is getting too safe and predictable.
That’s the duality that Miranda has always been troubled by, the feminist existential crisis that keeps her tossing and turning and returning to her songbook. She wants nothing more than to settle down, but she’s afraid of what she’ll have to sacrifice in doing so. “I’ve been a rolling stone and a tumbleweed / Waiting for the right ones to come find me / But the wrong ones always set me free”, she sings on the exquisitely understated ‘In His Arms’, as she longs for a tequila drunk cowboy to ride up and rescue her from ordinariness.
Palomino is an album that finds Miranda everywhere and nowhere all at once, lost in life and always on the verge of leaving. It revels in the idea of how good it feels to not be tied down to anything or anyone, to always be passing through the world and all the possibilities it becomes rich with when you do.
Her songs are filled with female characters who want it all and see no reason why they can’t have it; always packing up and moving on, catching planes or jumping on buses, mapping out trips from one place to another. There is a curious, dislocated brilliance to it all and it makes you want to throw a week’s worth of clothes in a bin bag and hop on the next Greyhound to anywhere but wherever you are.
If the rootless rhythms of the open road are her characters’ survival mechanisms, then ‘Carousel’ is a warning to them all to not sleep too close to the wheel. “Every show must end, every circus leaves town / You don’t know the magic’s gone until the lights go down”, she sings, fondly recalling a doomed love affair between a pair of trapeze artists.
‘Geraldene’ is one of three songs that originally appeared on last year’s Marfa Tapes, reworked here as a sultry slab of country funk, while ‘Waxahachie’ is transformed from a cutesy campfire ditty into a gently driving new-wave anthem. Just as you start to settle in to the album’s oddness, Miranda throws you her biggest curveball yet, bringing in the B-52’s on ‘Music City Queen’ to add yelps, squeals and girl group shoo-be-doos to what would have been a pretty weird song as it was.
Miranda Lambert has never been afraid of ruffling some feathers, sticking her neck out and taking one for the little guy. ‘If I Was A Cowboy’ picks up where ‘Y’all Means All’ – her Queer Eye soundtrack anthem of inclusivity; a clarion call for the under-represented and marginalised - left off. It’s a traditional trail song that quickly becomes an unlikely trans anthem as she radically subverts the cowboy myth. “Mamas, if your daughters grow up to be cowboys, so what”, she sings. Considering the country music landscape she’s singing it into, it sounds almost deafening.
Palomino might just be Miranda Lambert’s most fully formed and perfectly realised album yet. A weird and wonderful trip across America that never runs out of gas, splitting its time between raucous road songs and late-night campfire sing-a-longs, as she ponders her own peculiar double binds.
By a little way her best album yet.
Palomino is out on Friday 29th April via Vanner Records / Sony Music Entertainment. You can purchase the record from Holler's selected partners below: