By Bee Delores
Revolution is a masterclass in songwriting that perfectly balances tradition with modern style. Inarguably, it remains the template for what great country music should always be about.
“People sometimes don’t take me seriously. I haven’t been through a whole lot of tough times in my life,” admitted Miranda Lambert during her nine-week run on the country talent show Nashville Star.
After releasing her independent debut in 2001, the Texas native tried her chances at a singing competition to see her dreams take flight 一 even though she initially harbored understandable reservations. Her third-place finish, behind Buddy Jewell and John Arthur Martinez, became something far greater than a vehicle to fortune and fame. It gave her the chance to finally be heard.
The show's fiercest competitor, the ratings juggernaut American Idol, didn’t allow contestants to perform their own material until much later seasons. On Nashville Star, however, finalists were encouraged to write and revisit previously-composed songs of their own. On an early live show, Lambert performed ‘Greyhound Bound for Nowhere’ - a song about an affair which she’d record for her 2005 major-label debut, Kerosene. It instantly catapulted her into the stratosphere.
Sony executive Tracy Gershon sat on the judges panel, reporting “back about what I was finding”, she revealed in a 2005 interview. “I remember thinking I'm going to sign this girl no matter what".
If it hadn’t been clear from her first appearance on the show, Lambert didn’t adhere to the pop aesthetic previously laid out in the 90s and early aughts. The establishment was due for a good ole fashion shakeup, and Lambert was more than up to the task.
Lambert finished her run and signed to the label, after a little persuading on Gershon’s part. It wasn’t until 2007’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend sparked bigger hits that Lambert strengthened her craftsmanship. Arguably, it’s her defining record, a fine-tuned smorgasbord ranging from hit singles ‘Famous in a Small Town’ and undeniable smash ‘Gunpowder & Lead’, to essential deep cuts ‘Desperation,’ ‘Dry Town,’ and ‘Guilty in Here.’
Yet where that record cemented her renegade status, 2009’s Revolution further refined her songwriting sensibilities in evocative, tear-stained ways. As Slant music critic Jonathan Keefe summarized at the time, the record “reaffirms that Lambert is more interested with following her own creative muse and not the dictates of contemporary country trends.”
The radio singles 一 ‘White Liar,’ ‘Dead Flowers,’ ‘Only Prettier,’ ‘Heart Like Mine,’ and of course, ‘House That Built Me’ 一 feel crisper and even more alive today. Each song is an emotional vein connecting the 15-song album together, funneling pains of infidelity, heartache, and longing for better days with a vibrant lyrical pulse. Her penmanship remains the strongest of any of her contemporaries, and Lambert wields it as though she were a horse-bound swordsman galloping into battle.
Revolution excels in its unwavering fearlessness, noted in its sturdy musicality that zip-lines from the speaker-bustin’ ‘Maintain the Pain’ and the bouncy travelin’ tune ‘Airstream Song’ to the whirling dervish ‘Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go.’
Where ‘Sin for Sin’ closes in like smoke billowing from a pistol’s gaping mouth, ‘Viginia Bluebell’ bids the listener adieu with a plaintive prayer about inner beauty. “Pretty little thing / sometimes you got to look up,” sings Lambert, gently rocking the listener awake, “let the world see all the beauty that you're made of.” Even Fred Eaglesmith’s ‘Time to Get a Gun’ and ‘That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round’ by John Prine are transformed by her singular artistic approach. Lambert knew exactly who she was and was unafraid to show it off.
Her own achievement aside, Revolution is a landmark of the era for another crucial reason: it bookends a decade during which women saw a swift decline in radio airplay. Around the album’s 2009 release, Mediabase reported 15 percent of songs across year-end tallies were by women, down from 33 percent at the start of the decade. The likes of Faith Hill, Martina McBride, and even Sara Evans - once reliable radio staple - were phased out for a new generation of newcomers. Even more than that, space for women in general shrank, while real estate allotted to men drastically widened.
In the years since, women have had a tough uphill climb on country radio. However, many women, including Kacey Musgraves, have carved out careers unreliant on airplay 一 or managed to have moderate airplay as an extension of their business model. Artists like Ashley McBryde, Hailey Whitters, Carly Pearce, Lainey Wilson, Cam and Gabby Barrett, among a boatload of others, define success on their own terms by centering themselves in the work.
Today’s growing class of women singer-songwriters have taken quite a few pages out of Miranda Lambert’s playbook. Through deeper and more thoughtful storytelling, they’re unconcerned about fitting in with radio’s habits and trends (they likely wouldn’t be played much anyway), and instead, let the music do the talking. Across most of these artists’ catalogs, there’s a spiritual Revolution thread stitched into the fabric.
Whether we’re discussing Carly Pearce’s ‘What He Didn’t Do’, Ashley McBryde’s ‘Shut Up Sheila’ or Hailey Whitters’ ‘Plain Jane’, there’s a clear Lambert influence tucked away in the undergrowth. Of course, it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what an artist’s influences are - they’re often nestled neatly into the subconscious and simply pour forth from their own talents. But it’s undoubtedly there, like a ghost in the night.
A decade on, Revolution has more than earned its place among other influential records, fitting snuggling next to Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Row, John Prines’ self-titled and Bobbie Gentry’s Ode to Billie Joe.
It’s a masterclass in songwriting that perfectly balances tradition with modern style. Inarguably, it remains the template for what great country music should always be about.
The first-ever vinyl release of Miranda Lambert's 2009 album Revolution is out now via Vinyl Me Please. You can subscribe and purchase the vinyl from our affiliate partner, Vinyl Me Please, below.