This was Miranda Lambert as she has never sung before — a concert made up almost entirely of her recorded music that she rarely, if ever, performs live. But for Lambert, who unspools her jagged life in her lyrics, singing the “deepest cuts” of her celebrated albums also meant going to her most raw and painful places.
“I feel like I’ve just been through three years of therapy,” she announced near the end of the concert on Wednesday.
Lambert, 34, was performing the first of two shows as the 2018 artist-in-residence for Nashville’s Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. For an hour and 20 minutes in the intimate CMA Theater, the sold-out crowd experienced what Lambert called “the ones that got away” show.
“We have not played some of these live ever before so I hope you have forgiving ears,” she told her audience. “And I also want to warn you, if you don’t like sad songs, you might want to go ahead and leave.”
Her offer had no takers — “sad,” after all, is country’s middle name — and Lambert launched into a musical journey that took her through the six albums she has released since 2005. The stage was small and the stage lights undistracting, leaving all the theatrics to the songs. Lambert’s only backup was a five-person, mostly acoustic band and an ever-present cup spiked with her beloved Tito’s vodka.
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The set began with “Love Is Looking for You,” which Lambert said she wrote when she was just 17, then she brought out her original muse, dad Richard Lee (Rick) Lambert, an amateur country musician, to perform their “Greyhound Bound for Nowhere.”
“The first song we ever wrote together was a cheating song,” she explained, adding, “Kinda weird, but it’s all right.”
Lambert then cycled through four heart-shattering songs — “Bring Me Down,” “Desperation,” “More Like Her” and “Dead Flowers” — before inviting to the stage “sister songwriter” Natalie Hemby to lighten the mood. Their three-song set began with a little mutual admiration that alluded to another famous country singer-songwriter pairing.
“You’re my George Strait,” Hemby declared.
Lambert knew her cue well. “You’re my Dean Dillon,” she purred.
From the library of music they have created together, the two women chose two songs that are little heard, the whimsical “Airstream Song” and the wistful “Virginia Bluebell,” before stepping outside of the night’s theme for their first collaborative No. 1, “White Liar.”
Hemby recounted her first meeting with Lambert soon after the star’s third-place finish, at age 19, on the USA Network singing competition show, Nashville Star.
“I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I love your hat,’” Hemby recalled. “And she’s like, ‘Thanks, I got it at Walmart for five dollars.’ And I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love this girl.’ And she’s like, ‘My favorite things are bird dogs and chicken-fried steak,’ and I was like, ‘Who is this woman?’”
More girl power was waiting in the wings: Lambert’s “bestie” (and fellow Pistol Annie) Ashley Monroe came out to perform their No. 1, “Heart Like Mine,” and their 2009 song of regrets, “Me and Your Cigarettes.” Neither mentioned the third songwriting collaborator on the latter tune, Lambert’s former husband Blake Shelton, but the shadow of that nine-year relationship fell over the concert after Lambert brought out her “all-time hero,” singer-songwriter Allison Moorer.
“Miranda was in a love story,” Moorer said, recalling why she wrote “Oklahoma Sky,” which appeared on Lambert’s 2011 album, Four the Record. “And I was thinking about her, and I had that going in my mind.”
The song, inspired by the Oklahoma home that Shelton and Lambert shared, promises a lifetime of happily-ever-afters, but Moorer told the real “end of the story”: “You know, the dudes, they come and go. The song remains.”
The two women soldiered through the now-bittersweet lyrics, Lambert clutching her heart when she sang the song’s first line, “How long has it taken me to find you?” As the musicians took over between verses, Moorer offered Lambert a comforting embrace.
Lambert had had enough by song’s end. “Let’s lighten this load a little bit,” she announced before shifting into her sassy gear with “Gravity Is a Bitch,” a ragtimey co-write with longtime guitarist/collaborator Scotty Wray, who shared the stage.
In another about-face, Lambert then sent the musicians away, save backup singer Gwen Sebastian, for a wrenching performance of the cheating song “Dear Diamond.”
“This is a real country story because, well, it’s a sad song, number one,” she said. “And number two, I wrote it in a motel room on motel paper with a motel pen.”
She chose to close out the 17-song set with her anthem to endurance, “I’ve Got Wheels,” from Weight of These Wings.
“Whatever road, however long/I’ve got wheels/I’m rolling on,” Lambert belted out along with all of her guests, who had returned to the stage.
“It just reminds me to keep damn going,” she said in the song’s introduction. “Sometimes you don’t want to, but you got to.”
Lambert continues as the Hall of Fame’s artist-in-residence next Wednesday for her second sold-out concert in the CMA Theater.