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Music City
“VICE”—MIRANDA’S COUNTRY NOIR
7/22/16

By Holly Gleason

There is ambiance, a bit of hiss and then the traction as the needle catches—and a trenchant voice coos “Sting of the needle...dropping on a vinyl...” Dry, empty, just a record going around and a feathery voice as intimate as it is unrepentant intoning, “Neon singer with a jukebox title/full of heartbreak.”

In the starkness, Miranda Lambert emerges with her first new music since last year’s tabloid divorce from fellow country star Blake Shelton. “Vice” shimmers with a timelessness that could’ve been Patsy Cline’s ache on a Wurlitzer as comfortably as downloaded from iTunes or heard on SiriusXM’s Outlaw Country.

After that a cappella first verse, and the utterance “Vice,” Glen Worf’s fat bass note, Matt Chamberlain’s hard high-hat pop and Spencer Cullum’s puddle of steel fall like a sodden judgment. But for a Lone Star girl who’s not afraid of the truth, there’s only hard country songs, whiskey, strange beds and the jarring wince of morning after.

Whether this is the song of remorse from a scarlet woman—which no doubt the tabs will churn—or a stations of the cross for classic Nashville icons, “Vice” is a smart, velvety record that leaves room on the track for the instruments and emotions to spread out. With seven consecutive Academy of Country Music and six straight Country Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year awards, Lambert’s performance shows she knows her way around a song.

Here the conflict is without palpable guilt. Slightly wobbly, she moves through the sins with slight swells—“It’s gone before it melts the ice," "7am with my shoes in my hands”—and the resignation of a grown woman moving through life: “Said I wouldn’t do it, but I did it again.” By the time she announces, “Another vice, another town/Where my reputation can’t run me down,” this self-awareness seers without flinching.

After all the instrumental build—culminating in Luke Reynolds’ electric squall on the bridge, producer Frank Liddell strips it all away. Lambert’s voice—an aural homage to David Lynch’s noir femme fatales—is naked, haunting, a cascade of recognition. Intoning, “Standing at the sink, not looking in the mirror/Don't know where I am or how I got here/The only thing that I know how to find” she rises like a phoenix.

A tour de force. Real. Hard. Stately.

Sculpted for dynamics, invested with the notion life is jagged mess, “Vice” turns on how hormones and hunger, booze and old records can bring you down—leaving the only response to emerge and do it all over again. For the woman alternating her own Keeper of the Flame Tour and supporting Kenny Chesney on his 14 Spread the Love stadium shows, Lambert is proving musical acumen doesn’t preclude making arena-sized statements that are as bottomless as ’60s Patsy Cline, ’70s Tammy Wynette, ’80s kd lang or ’90s Lucinda Williams.