Four the Record (RCA Nashville)
The cover of Miranda Lambert's fourth album shows the singer walking away from a vintage car on fire. It's an update of her arrival on the country music scene back in 2005 with the incendiary honky-tonk firebug revenge fantasy "Kerosene." But there's little else on Four the Record that connects back with that hick shitkicker in the "Mama Tried" tank top; the new disc, for better and worse, shows off the mature and even reflective singer and songwriter who emerged as a fully formed Nashville superstar on 2009's Revolution.
Lambert is still feistier than her contemporaries—"Fastest Girl in Town" keeps her wild streak alive, and the raunchy rockabilly reverb of "Mama's Broken Heart" is heavier and meaner than almost anything that has come out of Nashville this year. She's also among the most daring of mainstream country artists, covering songs here by Gillian Welch, Allison Moorer, and Brandi Carlile. But Four the Record is a grab bag of moods and production styles—nothing sounds like it came from the same session as anything else—and the pop-rock middle ground it sticks to is accomplished but too often anonymous. There are high points, like "Mama's Broken Heart," "Better in the Long Run," Lambert's power-ballad duet with her husband, Blake Shelton, and Moorer's introspective "Oklahoma Sky." But the duds stand out: Lead single "Baggage Claim" suffers from its Nashville hit-by-committee precision, and the carnival sideshow fable "All Kinds of Kinds" is plain goofy.