“Saddle up the palomino, the sun is going down / The way I feel, this must be real”– Neil Young
Country music superstar Miranda Lambert’s latest album, Palomino, is a damn fine record. The singer-songwriter offers 15 tales of love and the American Dream in a robust, declarative yet tender voice. Life is a carnival, Lambert suggests. Her narrators may be chasing a gold ring but not a wedding band in their search for happiness. They want something more out of life, even if they don’t know what it is, and they are usually anxious to move on in search.
Lambert frequently sings in the first person, so we identify her with these restless women. That makes for deliciously gossipy fun reading between the lines about her marriage and divorce. It doesn’t matter if Lambert is truthful or therapeutic in her songs. Her ability to express her feelings as if they convey some profound truth counts more. “Times like these make me feel strange,” Lambert sings, and who doesn’t and hasn’t felt weird the last few years. By conveying this in the first person, we all become the “I” of the songs. The point is we are all in this together, alone.
That’s especially true if one is female. Lambert is everywoman. The men depicted on this record are not necessarily evil or bad but can be just as lost as the women. Some women have made it big, Lambert knows on the bragging “Country Money”, but she doesn’t necessarily see the world in such binary terms. The lyrics to such songs as the buoyant “Music City Queen” (which features guest vocals by the B-52s) celebrate gender diversity. Lambert’s nod to the sexism she has encountered in “If I Was a Cowboy” clarifies that she sees no difference between the genders in terms of talent and abilities. “So mamas, if your daughters grow up to be cowboys, so what” she sings, echoing Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.
It should be noted that many of the cuts here are co-writes with Lambert and familiar collaborators, including Jon Randall, Luke Dick, and Natalie Hemby. The one cover is the Mick Jagger song “Wandering Spirit”. For a country record, there are references to several rock and pop songs, including Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams”, Tommy James and the Shondell’s “Mony Mony”, the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive” and others.
Lambert rerecorded three songs (“In His Arms”, “Geraldene”, and “Waxahachie”) that appeared originally on her previous album, The Marfa Tapes with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall, this time with much brighter production. It’s unclear why she named the album Palomino, as there are no lyrical references to the horse. One presumes Lambert refers to wild horses, a country trope, and perhaps the color of her hair and the equine’s distinctive coloration. Still, the title makes associate sense. The Americanness of the symbol—its evocation of the West and freedom—fits the material in a poetic manner.
This impression is reinforced by the literate and expressive nature of the lyrics. She can be the queen of the one-liners: “I’m sunny side and over easy”, “You’re at the end of every road”, “When you live like neon / there’s a song you can lean on,” she quips on various songs. There are references to the real world we live in and the people in it (Tiger Woods, Dolly Parton) as well as its locations and things (“Another crescent moon between you and me“, “gasoline, memories, and nicotine”). Still, it’s easy to feel alienated from the strange world we live in. Lambert may feel unable to find her place in the world. The most poignant song on the album is “Tourist”, which celebrates always being on the move. But sometimes, the road can be one’s home for one who has the spirit of an untamed pony.