"My songs talk about real things," says Miranda Lambert. "Things that I've been through or I've witnessed through my friends and family - even my parents' private investigation business. If I feel it, I can sing it and make anyone believe it."

Big talk from a small-town Texas girl, but Lambert's got the goods to back it up. The old-school passion and power of her nearly platinum-selling 2005 debut Kerosene took it to the top of both the country charts and the critics' polls. Now the two-time CMA Horizon Award nominee returns with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, on which she raises the stakes both musically and emotionally.

"You can take each song on this album and compare it to the first record, and you can see that it's an upgrade," says Lambert. "It shows two years of growth. I also let people in a lot more than I did on the last record - so I'm a little scared, but I'm proud."

One of the oldest clichés in the music business is that you have your whole life to write your first record - and then if it's a hit, the second album is written on a schedule, while you're busy promoting and touring. But with Crazy-Ex Girlfriend, Lambert proves that for a writer of her caliber, life on the road can actually add experience and perspective.

"At this point, you write 'em on the road or you can't write at all," says Lambert. "You work, you get tired, but you also grow up. I'm more mature. I learned a lot about people and about who to trust, but I'm also a 23 year old girl and I go through things that other girls go through, and that's the vulnerable side of the record."

Miranda Lambert first exploded onto the scene as a finalist in the 2003 season of the "Nashville Star" television series. She didn't win - a result she has described as a blessing. "I was hoping not to win," she once said. "The winner had to go in right after the contest and make a record in a couple of weeks, and I wasn't ready."

Instead, she got the best of both worlds - Columbia Nashville, which had right of first refusal on the show's performers - signed Lambert to a deal, but she had the time and opportunity to make the album that she really wanted to make.

Her confidence and firepower were evident in Kerosene: it debuted at Number One on the country charts (only the sixth time a new artist entered in at the top), and went on to earn Lambert nominations for the CMA's Horizon Award and the ACM's Top New Female Vocalist Award. It also earned her a Grammy nomination. Kerosene garnered critical praise from countless outlets and was named one of the best albums of the year by The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Blender Magazine, iTunes, Tennessean and many more.

Most impressive, though, was the fact that Lambert, still a teenager, had written or co-written eleven of Kerosene's twelve songs, which had the authentic feel of old-school, take-no-prisoners country music. The album marked the arrival of a major new songwriting talent. Extensive touring with George Strait and Keith Urban followed, raising her profile and sharpening her on-stage act.

Her peers took notice. "There's a girl named Miranda Lambert who is a great songwriter," Michelle Branch (whose band, The Wreckers, was also a Horizon Award nominee) recently said. "We always watch her shows and go, 'Oh, I wish I would've written that song.'"

When it came time to start work on a new album, says Lambert, she quickly realized that she really wanted an extension of, rather than a different direction from, the debut. "We really didn't want to change anything because Kerosene worked," she says," and, you know if it ain't broke…So we kept the same studio and the same producers, Frank Liddell and Mike Wrucke"

The songs on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend reveal a blossoming songwriter whose gifts continue to expand, as well as a singer with impeccable taste in material. Lambert again wrote or co-wrote the bulk of the album's songs - eight of the eleven tracks - but she also interprets the work of some of the world's finest writers, including Gillian Welch, Patty Griffin, and Carlene Carter.

"In order for me to cut any song I didn't write, I want to feel it more than I feel my own words," she says. "It has to feel like it's something I could have written." Lambert's connection to the humor and pathos of "Dry Town," by Welch and David Rawlings, is immediately evident, and Griffin's new "Getting Ready" is a perfect vehicle for Lambert's most snarling, smack-talking vocal.

As for the modern classic "Easy From Now On," which closes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Lambert says "it's just a ridiculously great song." She confesses to being intimidated by cutting a track most closely associated with Emmylou Harris, but concluded that "I just don't think you can ever hear that song enough."

The Lambert originals on the album reveal a wide range of tones and attitudes. "Love Letters," she says, "is a real country ballad, and it shows a more vulnerable side." (She also adds that "it's my grandmother's favorite song of mine, and she would have killed me if I didn't put it on.")

At the other end of the spectrum is "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," which - in the tradition of Kerosene's breakthrough title song - presents Lambert as a woman you damn sure don't want to do wrong. "We had started a song called 'Favorite Ex-Girlfriend,' which was kind of a sweet song," she recalls. "And I said, you know, I hate this, it's not me - I don't do sweet songs." With a quick change of a single word, an unforgettable new kind of anthem was born.

"Everyone, especially the guys, will relate to it," she says. "Whenever I play it and ask if there are any crazy ex-girlfriends out there, the girls all scream!"

Possibly the biggest advance for Lambert, though, is an intimate song called "More Like Her". It expresses a fragility that she previously kept under wraps. "It almost scared me to put it on the record. It was so personal and introspective," she says. "But my fans deserve that from me, so I just need to go for it.

"I'm usually the girl who won't take any crap, but that's not realiztic all the time." The results illustrate the depth of a genuine artist, and point to Miranda Lambert's true potential as a career artist - the kind everyone thinks the music industry doesn't make anymore.

"Every song on this album is something I care about," she says. "Something I want to get across to people and you can hear that in my singing."

Miranda Lambert's favorite line in "Easy From Now On" is "Don't worry about me/I got a wild card up my sleeve." With Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she's laying all of her cards on the table, and she's got one hell of a winning hand.

Gunpowder & Lead
(Miranda Lambert/Heather Little)
OK, so we had that vulnerable moment, now get over it. I can do that, my dad calls me the ice princess. Heather Little and I have written a lot together, but I haven't cut a lot of those songs yet. She lives in the house I grew up in, right down the street from us. I had one day at home to write, and we sat in her kitchen. We had the whole song written except for the line about what little girls are made of. The next day, I was in my concealed handgun class, and I was calling Heather on the breaks every hour. My dad kept saying, "you're not paying attention, you're gonna fail the test." I was thinking, what's actually in bullets, what are they made of? And then the words "gunpowder and lead" just popped into my head. That song talks about real things - drinking and fighting - and we need to bring all that back to country music.

Dry Town
(Gillian Welch/David Rawlings)
I first learned about Gillian Welch on the soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou? When I found this song, I couldn't get it out of my head, couldn't stop thinking about. In order for me to cut any song I didn't write, I want to feel it more than I feel my own words - it has to feel like I could have written it. And I live in a dry town, 35 miles from a beer store. So it's just fun and true, and it makes me picture one of those hot days when all you really need is a beer.

Famous In A Small Town
(Miranda Lambert/Travis Howard)
We wrote that in my house, and it's exactly what it says. I've been on the front page of my hometown paper seven times. I wasn't trying to write a "small town" song, I had gone around visiting people that day and it got me remembering situations. It all came back to me and came out in the song. They're true stories - if you're late for church, people are going to talk about it and be all in your business.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
(Miranda Lambert/Travis Howard)
That song started out totally different. I was out touring with George Strait, and we were really hitting a wall. I was tired, really burnt-out, just ready to go home. I felt like I didn't have any creativity left, and I was probably mad at my boyfriend. We had started this song "Favorite Ex-Girlfriend," which was kind of a sweet song. And I said, you know, I hate this, it's not me. I don't do sweet songs, especially not right then. So I just said that title, and we took off from there. It's one of those songs that everyone, especially the guys, will relate to - it's like "Kerosene." When I play it and ask if there are any crazy ex-girlfriends out there, the girls all scream.

Love Letters
(Miranda Lambert)
I wrote that song on the floor in my friend's bathroom in Nashville. When I get the spirit to write I have to do it right then. I was probably 18 then, so it's kind of an old song - not old to anyone else, but to me. I wasn't going to cut it, but my producer talked me into it. And it's my grandmother's favorite song of mine, so she would have killed me if I didn't put it on. It's different from everything else on here - it's a real country ballad, and I don't usually do songs like that. It shows a more vulnerable side.

(Miranda Lambert)
I'm really proud of that one because I wrote it by myself. It's harder to do that now, my head is so cluttered. My friends and my parents liked it, but felt like I just wrote it for me. It just came alive in the studio, the track really moves you through the story. Sometimes you get so frustrated in a relationship. I didn't know if people would really understand what I was saying, but it's from the heart. I didn't think about hooks or radio play or any of that when I was writing. My mom is my radio listener - she'll always tell me what she does and doesn't like in a song.

More Like Her
(Miranda Lambert)
That's a really personal song I wrote not long ago, when I was going through a lot of stuff. I had a situation where there was another woman who I felt was getting the things I wanted. It almost scared me to put it on the record, it was so personal and introspective. But my fans deserve that from me, so I just need to go for it. I felt it so much in the studio, and you can hear it in my voice. This is the first time I've let myself be that vulnerable. I'm usually the girl who won't take any crap, but that's not realiztic all the time.

(Miranda Lambert/Travis Howard)
I was in California doing a radio tour, and Travis and I wrote that song in the car driving between stops. I was listening to a lot of Buddy and Julie Miller at the time. It's got a little edge to it, but with kind of a bluegrass feel. I had had a couple of run-ins with boys, so it's a somewhat true story.

Guilty In Here
(Miranda Lambert/Travis Howard)
That's one of the first songs I ever wrote, right after "Nashville Star." I wasn't on tour yet, was getting my record deal going. Actually, I almost put that song on "Kerosene" but it didn't fit. I was driving around with Travis griping about my boyfriend. Travis and I are so close, and I think that was kind of an issue. Usually, you don't expect the girl to be the guilty one - really, girls do some stuff, but they just don't sing about it. My parents are private investigators, so I know all that goes on. I grew up hearing about it.

Getting Ready
(Patty Griffin)
I love Patty Griffin. I found out about her from the Dixie Chicks "Fly" record, and also through Jack Ingram. I always wanted to cut one of Patty's songs, but I was scared that I just wouldn't be able to do it justice. I went to a charity show in Nashville and Emmylou, Mindy Smith, Paula Cole, and Patty were playing. She closed the show and she played this song and I was just freaking out, it was so good. I asked my producer, can you please get me that song? So he got a hold of the work tape, just her and her guitar, recorded at her house. I was kind of a chicken - since she hadn't recorded it yet, I didn't have to compete with her own version - but it just seemed like the right one. The energy was so high when we recorded that we just used the scratch vocal on the album.

Easy From Now On
(Carlene Carter/Susanna Clark)
That's a ridiculously great song. My favorite line is "Don't worry about me/I got a wild card up my sleeve." I love Emmylou so much - I got on "Nashville Star" singing "Two More Bottles of Wine." We were getting songs together the day before we went into the studio. I'd never thought about doing it before, but a light bulb just came on. It's been recorded a few times before, but I don't think you can ever hear it enough.

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