Miranda Lambert — “Kerosene”

Released: 10.3.05

Peak: #61

Reality TV has long since proven its uselessness as an A&R tool, failing to dredge up not only talent but even reliable sales figures, and overall contributing just slightly more to pop music than Pat Boone. Apparently Nashville Star second-runner-up Miranda Lambert wasn’t cut out for glorified karaoke. Voters passed over the cutely square-jawed blonde Texan in favor of hit-making juggernaut Buddy Jewell and the legendary John Arthur Martinez.

Lambert bounced back fine. Her first single was the charming “Me and Charlie Talking,” which recalls two ten-year-olds’ first crush from a gently knowing adult perspective. But her follow-up reduced charm to bitter ash. “Kerosene” kicks off with a death rattle of a tambourine and a hazardously detuned riff, before a stripped-down backbeat that’d make Kenny Aronoff proud drives it home. Each musical element — even that fierce harmonica — contributes toward the cut’s intensity. And Lambert, barely concealing a slight Natalie Maines sweetness in her upper register, hacks through downs romantic illusions on the verses en route to her refrain: “I’m giving up on love/ ‘Cause love’s given up on me.”

“Kerosene” notably lacks the cute sass that usually cuts country women’s revenge fantasies (including Lambert’s own “Gunpowder and Lead”). And unlike Gretchen Wilson, who she’s outlasted both commercially and creatively, Lambert didn’t need to flaunt her redneck attributes–they’re just a part of who she is. Also, who she is was a lady classy enough to share writing credits for “Kerosene” with Steve Earle, because she thought she cribbed from “I Feel Alright.” Probably wouldn’t hold up in court, and I bet Steve wouldn’t have tried it. Or denied that hers is the better tune.

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