Miranda Lambert with Toby Keith
Thursday · Riverbend Music Center
Even though it sounds like a cliche from the big book of Country songwriting, the truth is that, when the timing's right, a loser can end up being the biggest winner of all.
Today's object lesson comes from Miranda Lambert and her sophomore album, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the follow-up to her 2005 near-platinum debut, Kerosene. Imagine for a moment if the then-19-year-old had actually taken the crown in 2003's Nashville Star competition and then been forced into the studio within weeks to be primped and preened by industry spin witchdoctors into that week's idea of what a Country chanteuse should have been. In that scenario, Lambert would never have taken two years to develop Kerosene, which under her incredibly young and capable direction debuted at No. 1 on the Country charts, earned her CMA Horizon and Grammy Award nominations and sold a buttload.
Being punted by Nashville Star was the best thing that could have happened to her.
Considering domino theory, it's also the best thing that could have happened to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. With two more years of experience and perspective, Lambert has fashioned another album's worth of tracks infused with the twist and twang of young Country's current Pop/Rock energy while paying homage to Country's rootsy and traditional past. She can haul out the Country authenticity on the Gillian Welch/David Rawlings swinger "Dry Town" and the weepy waltz of "Love Letters," acoustic Folk melancholy on "More Like Her," crackling contemporary sparks on Patty Griffin's "Getting Ready" and the raucous title track, with various blends of all of it on "Gunpowder & Lead" and "Guilty in Here."
Lambert writes or co-writes nearly everything on Ex, making her wire-walk between Country's future and past all the more impressive — although her gorgeous take on the Carlene Carter/Susanna Clark-written, Emmylou Harris-owned "Easy From Now On" also dazzles. She's the perfect confluence of youthful rootsy Rock edginess and pure Country heritage and passion, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the energized proof.
Liz Carroll & John Doyle
Saturday and Sunday · Cincinnati Celtic Festival (at the Serpentine Wall)
Before fiddler Liz Carroll and acoustic guitarist John Doyle joined forces two years ago to record their debut album together, In Play, both were respected and powerful presences in the Irish music world. The other trait they shared was that they both began playing and established their credentials at an early age.
The difference between them was that Carroll was an American practitioner of the Celtic music tradition, a scene that has typically prized performers from the home country over outsiders, while Doyle was a native Dubliner who moved to America as a teenager.
Carroll began playing fiddle as a young girl, eventually winning the Senior All-Ireland Championship at age 18, almost unheard of for an American. She eventually went on to join the Celtic trio Trian while maintaining a solo career, recording her first album on her own in 1988 (although her sophomore effort wouldn't appear for another 12 years) and garnering positive praise for her ability to merge the Irish tradition with a contemporary sense of innovation and passion.
Doyle found himself a part of New York City's burgeoning Irish Folk scene at age 16, playing professionally with a variety of Celtic players. His work with Seamus Egan ultimately evolved into the group Solas, which became one of the most influential and popular Irish-American groups in the scene, with Doyle's intricate fingerpicking and rhythmic undercurrent being singled out for particular notice.
By the turn of the century, both Doyle and Carroll had left their band situations for exclusive solo careers, each of them being singled out for stretching the parameters of Irish music in their own unique ways. They had also started appearing on each other's albums — during the five years before In Play, the pair had each recorded two solo albums featuring contributions from the other.
Carroll's third solo album, 2002's Lake Effect, was a hint of the duo project to come, as Doyle co-produced and accompanied Carroll with his rhythmically fluid guitar on the majority of the album. When In Play was released in 2005, it was hailed as a triumph, with Doyle's flawless sense of foundation and melody and Carroll's innate ability to compose in the tradition with a contemporary flair complementing each other perfectly.
The only thing better than Carroll and Doyle together in the studio is the duo on stage, where their intuitive collaborative skills are ratcheted up a notch by adrenaline and audience feedback, which should both be considerable. They play the Cincinnati Celtic Festival's Main Stage on the Serpentine Wall at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday. (BB)