- - Monday, October 31, 2011

Four the Record

Miranda Lambert

RCA Nashville

★★★★

With a voice that falls somewhere between the trailer park and the country club, Miranda Lambert has built her career on songs that blur the boundaries between country, rock and pop. She’s a self-proclaimed “bad girl” one minute, swilling whiskey and raising a ruckus during songs like “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” and a sentimental balladeer the next, as shown on her biggest hit to date, “The House that Built Me.” Psychologists call this sort of thing personality disorder; music fans call it ear candy.

Repeating the steps that turned its three predecessors into platinum sellers, “Four the Record” jumps between genres at every opportunity, taking much of its material from outside writers like Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley. Miss Lambert still gets up to her usual shenanigans, even if the music isn’t her own.

On “Fastest Girl in Town,” she takes some poor, gullible guy for a high-speed joyride and splits once he gets pulled over, making off with the traffic cop instead. She gets drunk and disorderly on the album’s requisite breakup anthem, “Mama’s Broken Heart,” and croons a string of double entendres during the sassy, sinuous “Fine Tune,” which sounds a bit like Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er” in cowboy boots.

“Four the Record” isn’t all about mischief, though. Miss Lambert, who married country star Blake Shelton earlier this year, also sings a few moon-eyed love songs for her husband. On an album filled with infidelity and hangovers, songs like “Safe” are sober reminders that love can show up in the most unlikely of places, even the newest album by country’s most celebrated hell-raiser.

 

Ceremonials

Florence + the Machine

Universal Republic

★★★½

Florence Welch writes songs like a stonemason builds castles, stacking layers of gospel choirs and tribal percussion into pop-Gothic masterpieces. “Ceremonials” improves the architecture of her 2009 debut, which grafted neo-soul melodies onto a foundation of gorgeous, atmospheric pop. Emboldened by two years of success, she attacks her newest album like a younger Kate Bush or a New Age Adele, keeping the bedrock intact while adding some gorgeous embellishments — a glittering harp arpeggio here, a baroque string section there — to the mix.

The result is distinctly European and almost overwhelmingly unique. Most big-sounding bands make music that aims for the cheap seats at the back of an arena, but Miss Welch sounds like she’s singing to the last row at Liverpool Cathedral. Her voice booms with womanly, unwieldy vibrato, and there’s a sense of religious fervor to the songs themselves, which build up to cathartic choruses like the world’s coolest, artiest tent revival.

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