- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 12, 2007

If feisty young country star Miranda Lambert were to inspire a lipstick hue, it’d undoubtedly be a blazing shade of red. Something like “fire engine,” but even more intense. A color that might visually approximate a 23-year-old with white-hot beauty, bold tracks about brazen women, flame-filled videos and albums that have scorched their way up the charts.

Who knows if the singer-songwriter would actually paint her own lips with the product, but her name does have major selling-power; her 2005 debut, “Kerosene,” just went platinum, and her May follow-up, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” entered the country charts at No. 1.

Miss Lambert has sold some of her fans on confessing their own “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” stories at a booth she’s planted at her latest round of gigs (opening for Toby Keith). It’s an idea that she and her management came up with to get listeners and radio stations involved, and one that ties neatly into the album’s title track, which presents the artist as a true Texan (someone you don’t want to mess with).

Highlights from the “Crazy” campaign are now on the artist’s Web site, and while they’re pretty juicy, the singer says she’s still waiting to hear “the greatest story ever.”

“I think [people] are kind of scared to throw it out there,” she adds.

It’s a fear she doesn’t seem to share; she’s been putting herself on the line since she was a youngster growing up in the small town of Lindale, Texas.

There, she worked on cheerleading tricks and hunting skills, gleaned future material from her parents’ detective agency, and sopped up the sounds of country music, including tunes her father wrote.

As a high school student, she began entering talent contests and moonlighting in a band.

Her big break came by way of the 2003 season of “Nashville Star,” a Southern-styled TV talent show, in which she finished third — high enough to land a record deal and a legion of fans.

Since then, she’s established herself as a formidable songwriting and vocal talent whose girl-powered ditties have earned her comparisons to “Redneck Woman” Gretchen Wilson. A similar spunk surfaces in cuts like “Kerosene’s” title track (in which she torches an ex’s property) and this year’s “Gunpowder & Lead” (in which she cozies up to her shotgun), although her latest disc reveals a softer, more sentimental side as well.

Despite her ever brightening star, Miss Lambert strives to maintain her country-girl roots. One trick that’s worked is having her dog Delilah on the road with her for the past five months.

“[Delilah] doesn’t care about Miranda Lambert,” the singer says. “When I finish a show, she’s waiting on her bed and she’s so happy to see me — but because I’m her mom, not Miranda Lambert.”

The artist also believes it’s important to step away from her audiences and be a fan in someone else’s audience when she can. In addition to country legends (like Merle Haggard) whom she was weaned on, she’s a huge admirer of R&B; diva Beyonce, whom she’s seen live and hopes to soon meet.

“She represents for the girls with big butts, which I respect,” Miss Lambert says.

While it would be easy for the country crooner to remain stuck in her own orbit, she much prefers shooting for the musical stars.

“If I’m not a fan anymore at some point, I need to quit,” she says. “That’s why I do this; you work to be like someone else that you’ve looked up to.”

Miss Lambert opens for Mr. Keith on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Nissan Pavilion (www.nissanpavilion.com) in Bristow, Va..

Cranberry loose

Dolores O’Riordan, formerly the voice of Irish rockers the Cranberries, spent the past four years writing and recording “Are You Listening?” the solo debut she released in May. That may seem like a protracted period for a veteran songsmith, but the disc’s highly personal content clues listeners in to the other, more challenging work she was tackling simultaneously.

In “Ordinary Day,” she’s making promises to her daughter (her third child with husband Don Burton); in “Black Widow” she’s lamenting the loss of her mother-in-law; and in “Apple Of My Eye” she’s a woman in love. Other tracks — like “Human Spirit” — finger some of the dark demons that she’s recently banished.

The singer explains that this crop of clean-sounding rock songs are the product of her arrival at a “comfortable” spiritual place — “a very strong place, really.”

Getting to that spot required retreating from public view almost entirely — something she hadn’t really done since she and the Cranberries first started to “Linger” around charts and stages following their 1993 debut album.

“The ups [with the band] were great, but the downs were really bad, too,” says Miss O’Riordan, who later indicates just how profound the depths were by dropping the phrases “completely lost my faith in the human race” and “skeletons starting to crush me.”

These days, she’s feeling revitalized and is enjoying the freedom that comes with being her own boss.

“I’m getting older and realizing that ‘it’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it,’” she says. “When I was younger I found it was a lot of pressure.”

Miss O’Riordan performs at the 9:30 Club (www.930.com) tonight.

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