In a lot of ways, country singer Miranda Lambert was probably an inevitable candidate for the audacious artistic statement that is a double album — since her first release, 2005’s “Kerosene,” she’s been beloved for speaking her truth, no matter how incendiary it might be. But what’s truly stunning about “The Weight of These Wings,” Lambert’s sixth album and first to reach double-LP status, is how much richness she’s been able to mine from country music, reaching back to its honky-tonk roots while also looking forward at an era where shimmering feedback can make as much of a noise as a pointed line.
Lambert became one of country’s brightest stars because of kicky songs that picked apart the assumptions people have not just about her, but about small-town southern living. On “Weight,” she subverts musical expectations as well. “Runnin’ Just in Case,” its opening track, is dominated by hazy guitars that recall “Rattle & Hum”-era U2 as Lambert sings with a steely determination that only reveals its weariness when she opens her voice wide, allowing the slightest crack. The song exists in the country tradition in that it uses aching poetry suffused with open-road imagery to make its point — “Happiness ain’t prison, but there’s freedom in a broken heart” — but it shows a new side of Lambert, one that’s exhausted and vulnerable.
The rest of the album’s first half (subtitled “The Nerve”) allows Lambert to further push country music’s boundaries as she sings about flouting societal norms. While the rollicking “Ugly Lights,” the jukebox-ready “Covered Wagon,” and the warm, fingerpicked ballad “Pushin’ Time” could easily land on country radio right now, other tracks — the buzzing, over-it “Pink Sunglasses,” the dream-poppy “Highway Vagabond” — round out the first half’s more traditional sounds. “Vice,” the album’s first single, uses a synthesizer to underscore Lambert’s alienated lyrics, adding to the remove with which she sings of last-call bad decisions.
Side two is called “The Heart,” and its songs are a bit less cluttered, allowing Lambert’s sweetly acidic voice to shine — the slide guitar on “Well-Rested” complements her full-throated wail beautifully, while “Keeper of the Flame” allows her to proclaim her innate but not immutable resolve (“I’m bent, but I’m not broken/ I’m stronger than I feel/ I’m made of flesh and bone/ Not made of steel”) over a midtempo chug.
Double albums are a risk, but if anything, Lambert’s fame has been a testament to the benefit of taking them. “The Weight of These Wings” matches the take-no-prisoners attitude of her lyrics with music that travels unexpected routes but often winds up touching the soul.
ESSENTIAL: “Highway Vagabond”Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.