You can have Carrie Underwood, thank you. And as much as I admire Taylor Swift and her youthful talent and remarkable potential (she's only 18), she's still a diamond in the rough. My young, country blonde of choice -- hey, young country singer, period -- is Miranda Lambert.

On her two albums (the first was pretty good, the second pretty great), she comes across alternately as a one-woman Dixie Chicks and Gretchen Wilson's kid sister. Onstage Saturday night at Mystic Lake Casino in her first Twin Cities headlining performance, she came across at turns like Dolly Parton and Lita Ford, the 1980s blonde bombshell rocker.

Lambert, 24, was a little bit country and a little bit rock 'n' roll -- and very, very good at both. For starters, she's a first-rate songwriter (she penned 13 of the 18 numbers she sang). And on Saturday, she proved to a charming personality (when she decided to turn on the charm) and a powerful performer (when she put full effort into it).

At first, Lambert seemed a little slick and not connecting with the sell-out crowd -- except when she introduced "Dry Town" about her booze-free county in Texas, by saying, "It's kinda like tonight, where you can't find beer or liquor for miles. [Mystic Lake is alcohol-free.] You know that sucks!"

Too often, Lambert didn't seem to care that Keith Zebroski's kick drum was too loud, often obliterating her vocals. However, on the softer tunes that he didn't mar (notably "Easy From Now On"), Lambert sang with the subtle emotionalism of a Dolly Parton. There was a longing and weariness in her voice on "More Like Her" that neither Underwood nor Swift could approach. There is unquestionably a vulnerable and soft side to Lambert, who has made her mark on country radio with no-nonsense, tough-gal rave-ups.

To be sure, Lambert rocked the house, shaking her ratty, long blonde hair like a 1980s rock-video vixen. In a striped T with its skull and crossbones, tight jeans, rhinestone belt and tall, high-heeled boots, she looked like a denizen of the Sunset Strip rock circuit when Mötley Crüe reigned supreme. She galvanized the crowd on her fist-waving "Gunpowder & Lead," the rollicking Rod Stewart classic "Stay with Me" and the fiery finale "Kerosene." And during that ferocious six-song flurry that closed the set, Lambert proved not only that she can rock with the best of 'em, but also that she has the best va-va-va-voom strut in country music.

After 75 minutes onstage, the tougher-than-leather Texan didn't bother with an encore -- a cocky move befitting her personae but perhaps disappointing to her fans.

For a set list and fan comments, go to Jon Bream • 612-673-1719