Miranda Lambert’s eighth solo album, Palomino, is a vibe from start to finish. From album opener, “Actin’ Up,” to closer, “Carousel,” the 37-time Academy of Country Music Award winner takes the listener on a cohesive travelogue of the heart that covers plenty of terrain emotionally and geographically, with almost every song referencing a city or location.
The mood is one of constant motion, delivered by a relentlessly restless free spirit who defies any attempts to tie her down, and rooted only in her wanderlust. That doesn’t mean she’s seeking to be unfettered of all attachments, but as Lambert sings wistfully in “In His Arms,” she’s looking for the right partner, not just a partner.
Lambert’s delivery is pitch perfect as she delivers some of her most on-point lyrics ever, laid over atmospheric melodies. Her wordplay game is especially strong here, as it feels like no lyric is wasted. Always inspired but never cutesy-clever, the lyrics paint instant images, such as when she calls her romantic rival “trailer-park pretty” on “Geraldene,” one of three songs that originally appeared on 2021’s stripped-down The Marfa Tapes amped up here (along with “In His Arms” and “Waxahachie.”)
Nothing here feels labored. Instead, Lambert brings each song forward with a genial confidence and, in some cases, she’s a girl who just wants to have fun — as on “Music City Queen,” which features her frolicking with the B-52s.
Appropriately, there’s nothing here with the gut-wrenching immediacy of “The House That Built Me” or “Tin Man.” But this isn’t the album for grand statements, and Palomino is no less satisfying for the lack of them. Instead, this is an album about impermanence and movement, largely written with such collaborators as Luke Dick, Jon Randall, Natalie Hemby during the pandemic. It’s a journey well worth taking.
Here’s a ranking of every song on Lambert’s most loose-limbed album to date:
15. “Wandering Spirit”
The lone remake on the album is Lambert’s take on the title tune from Mick Jagger’s 1993 solo album. She turns it into a hand-clapping, toe-tapping ode with wailing backing vocals. It fits in perfectly with the album’s restless theme, and brings up the rear here simply because it’s the lone tune not co-written by Lambert.
14. “Country Money”
Lambert pays ode to folks out in the country getting in done on this somewhere odd, but strangely hypnotic track. There’s Connie, whose Wisconsin farm produces “the best beef in the cheese state, baby” or Carol Jean, the “chicken egg queen,” whose a “bad mother clucker,” or the Carter Sisters, whose moonshine will “get you there quicker,” these ladies are rolling in “country money” despite appearances. “You can’t tell by her britches, but she’s one rich S.O.B.,” Lambert sings admiringly.
Lambert tries to put some mileage between her and her ex, as she travels throughout the Southwest in an effort to move on — in every way — in this swampy, guitar-drenched tune.
12. “That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play”
As Lambert surveys the denizens at the bar, she knows each has a story that a song on the jukebox already tells in this cinematic, swirling ballad. Whether you’re the girl “starting all the fires in her Levis” or the one “stirring up her emotions in the ice with her fingertips,” everyone has a heartbreak to sing about.
Is there a better couplet to describe the last few years than “Pick a string/ Sing the blues/ Dance a hole in your shoes/ Do anything to keep you sane/ ‘Cause times like these make me free strange.” Lambert never mentions the pandemic in this ambling track, but concentrates more on how the world just feels a little topsy-turvy these days.
10. “Music City Queen”
Lambert embraces her “flashy/trashy” side on this rollicking tune about performers past their prime still bringing the magic every night on the song’s titular cruise boat When the B-52s’ Fred Schneider declares, “She’s a show boat baby!,” everyone who grew up on “Love Shack” will burst into a big smile. Like the “trailer-park pretty” like in “Geraldene,” Lambert paints a complete picture with the phrase “fishnet fancy for a buffet line.”
9. “Actin’ Up”
The album opener sets the tone for the set to come with this echo-y, edgy vibe, with a hint of David Essex’s “Rock On” to it. Where else would you find a song that namedrop Tiger Woods, Tommy James & The Shondells’ “Mony Mony” and Elvis? As Lambert suggestively asks, “I’m a really good trip, don’t you want to go on it?” Who would say no?
The first song written for Palomimo sets the tone of exploration of all kinds and serves as the project’s mission statement. On the genial, largely acoustic number, Lambert admits “there’s always been a stranger in my soul,” who has to keep moving, even when the times get tough and she needs to “laugh away the lonely.”
7. “Pursuit of Happiness”
Bolstered by a twangy country melody, Lambert takes to the road, admitting she’s “runnin’ just as fast as my heart can,” in her pursuit of happiness. Whether it’s heartbreak that has made her hit the pavement or restlessness — or even having her “name on a big marquee” — she is relentless in her travels.
6. “In His Arms”
This wistful beauty first appeared on The Marfa Tapes. It’s dressed up a little here, but retains its bittersweet feel as Lambert wonders where the cowboy she danced with on a night long ago is now, and wishes they were together.
Lambert is all attitude here, as she takes on a woman who is no “Jolene.” In that Dolly Parton classic, Parton laments the possibility of losing her man, but Lambert has no such fear despite the swarm of men circling. “You’ve got them all on their knees but you can’t take a man from me,” Lambert states in this delicious, stuttering track. There’s really no doubt when she announces, “You’re never gonna be the backstage babe at the Crystal Palace/ You’re too late baby, I’m the only bitch in the band.”
4. “I’ll Be Lovin’ You”
For all her wandering, Lambert’s partner remains her true north in this upbeat, sweet ode to a love that distance only make grow fonder. “You’ll always belong at the end of my song/even if I’m out of tune,” she sings. “You’re at the end of every road.”
Another track she debuted on The Marfa Tapes, Lambert is on the run again after leaving New Orleans in a huff. Delightfully breezy and melodic but still with some emotional heft, it feels almost like a song Jimmy Webb would have written for Glen Campbell in the late ‘60s.
2. “If I Was a Cowboy”
Lambert has taken Palomino’s first single into the top 20 of Billboard’s Country Airplay chart, and with good reason. It’s an easygoing track with a bit of a gender twist: “If I was a cowboy, I’d be the queen,” she sings, and lines like “You thought the west was wild but you ain’t saddled up with me” leave no doubt to her claims.
The album closer hits a poignant note with the story of Elaina, a former circus acrobat who misses Harlan, her trapeze partner from years earlier. She’s on solid ground now and married to someone else — but every time she hears a carousel, it takes her right back. It feels a little like a successor to Lambert’s beautiful “Bluebird,” but with sadder overtones, as Lambert sings (accompanied by an acoustic guitar), “‘Cause every show must end/ Every circus leaves town/ You don’t know the magic’s gone/ Until the lights go down.”