Like Frank Sinatra and Hank Williams, country superstar Miranda Lambert does it her way.
“I’ve been doing this for a living for 17 years, and I’ve gone with my gut, not with what was popular or what would make the most money,” said the soft-spoken singer. “And it’s worked.”
This time her gut told her to enlist only women as openers on her Roadside Bars & Pink Guitars Tour, which arrives Saturday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul with bluesy rocker Elle King, acclaimed country newcomer Ashley McBryde and Lambert’s own side project Pistol Annies in tow.
“It’s really cool to have a bunch of girls out here that all offer something totally different artistically but have the same goal,” she said. “I love seeing the newer artists and helping them if they need it and being inspired by their energy.”
Her gut told her to record a non-album single of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” with her opening acts so they can end the night singing together.
“I’ve never heard a girl do that song,” she said.
And defying conventional wisdom, the country stalwart hit the road this fall before the release of her latest album. “Wildcard” doesn’t arrive until Nov. 1 but she’s already released seven singles from it — half the album, which is her eighth.
Her maverick ways recently earned Lambert the Recording Industry Association of America’s first-ever artist of the year award “in recognition of her bold and fearless efforts to move the industry forward.”
Lambert, 35, has collected many trophies, including album of the year (twice) and top female vocalist (seven times) from the Country Music Association. But the RIAA recognition is different.
“That award is not about what’s going on in your everyday life but rather a journey for what you’ve been accomplishing quietly,” she said. “It’s really special.”
Each night on tour she sings several songs from the new record. One, “It All Comes Out in the Wash,” has been getting airplay on country stations for a change.
“I need radio,” Lambert said. “I didn’t have it on the last record at all.”
Her last album, the 24-song “The Weight of These Wings,” won a national critics poll as the best country album of 2016 and the Academy of Country Music’s album of the year. But radio mostly ignored it.
“It had a lot more singer-songwriter-type things on it,” she acknowledged by phone recently before a concert in West Virginia. “And it was a weird time for playing females at all [on country radio].
“A lot of radio people have been so kind on this single: ‘We’re glad to have you back.’ I didn’t go anywhere,” she said with a bemused chuckle. “I was there the whole time. I mean, ‘Tin Man’ won song of the year [from the ACM].”
“The Weight of These Wings” addressed her divorce from superstar Blake Shelton and a subsequent new relationship with singer-songwriter Anderson East, which didn’t last, either.
Secret marriage to NYC cop
In February, Lambert surprised fans by announcing on Instagram that she’d secretly wed New York City police officer Brendan McLoughlin a month earlier. They reportedly met last November when Pistol Annies performed on “Good Morning America” in Times Square.
With the new marriage, Lambert was “ready to smile and have some fun” on her new album.
“Wildcard” is filled with buoyant energy, bracing optimism and a spunky playfulness. There’s the cheeky “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” the feisty “Mess With My Head” and the pedal-steel-spiked “Tequila Does.”
“This record is just classic me, whatever that means,” Lambert said. “It’s got some strong songs, it’s got some radio-friendly songs, it’s got some humor and sarcasm. I think that’s what my career was built on. I’ve covered every emotion — and I’ve done it in 51 minutes.”
“Bluebird” addresses the theme of resiliency with a typical Lambert zinger: “And if love keeps giving me lemons, I’ll just mix ’em in my drink.”
“There’s a little bit of darkness there, but it’s also hopeful,” she said of the song. “I think it’s just kind of a reminder to myself and everyone else that things get hard, that’s part of life — but things come out OK. You can’t stay in that dark place.”
She comes out charging on “Locomotive,” her rockingest tune in years. She credits the vibe to her new producer, Jay Joyce, known for his work with Eric Church.
“Maybe I’m just punk at heart,” she mused.
No matter what opening acts join her, the singer doesn’t go on tour without some of her dogs.
“I have nine dogs,” said Lambert, who in 2009 founded MuttNation Foundation for rescue animals and shelters. “I have them in all sizes. I take two or three little ones with me on the road.”
During soundcheck the pooches run around the stage, but by showtime they’re on Lambert’s bus. Each has its own bunk.
Lambert also likes to hang with her opening acts on this weekends-only tour: King, who scored the Top 10 pop hit “Ex’s and Oh’s”; McBryde, who is nominated for best new artist at next month’s CMA Awards; and Pistol Annies pals Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe, who co-wrote “Locomotive” with Lambert.
In the middle of Lambert’s concert set, she brings out the Annies for a handful of their fun-loving, classic-sounding tunes.
“It’s such a passion project for me,” she said of the trio, which has released three albums but never gone on a proper tour.
Could the Annies tour with the Highwomen, Nashville’s new supergroup featuring Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby?
“The difficult part about it is every single one of those girls has solo careers, and some of them are moms,” Lambert pointed out. “Just getting the Annies for this tour was quite a feat. And to get the Highwomen with us, it would take a lot of planning. But it could happen.”
Don’t be surprised if a maverick like Lambert and her friends somehow pull it off.