Miranda Lambert – “The House That Built Me”
In country music, home is where the hits are.
Small town living is the go-to topic for Music Row writers looking for a cheap hook. In the rural utopia they‘ve invented for today’s country radio, a few hard-and-fast rules apply: Saturday nights are spent in a hell-raisin’, hard-drinkin’ fury; Sunday mornings are saved by amazing grace and greasy fried chicken.
But what happens when an American daughter, raised in the ways of the Deep South, takes the dirt road less traveled? Echoing a long-time country classic–Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter”–Miranda Lambert’s latest single is a gorgeous piece of melancholy country without getting squishy or sentimental. “The House That Built Me,” an early favorite for single of the year, is a heart-crusher for all the dixieland dreamers who’ve pursued happiness only to have their hopes dashed by the time they cross the Mason-Dixon Line.
There’s nary a wasted word here, with Lambert giving voice to a generation of young adults anxiously awaiting their big break. In her world-weary, Texas-cured soprano, she sounds out the hollowness inside her rebel heart. “I know they say you can’t go home again,” she sighs, and so begins her journey back to a simpler time.
Lambert, a downright eccentric by Nashville standards, has built her career as a spunky sparkplug, welding her healthy confidence to explosive songs like “Kerosene” and “Gunpowder and Lead.” With “House,” she’s played a brilliant trump card. The iron-willed, invincible girl who shot out tart-tongued boasts with the best of ’em? Not here. In her place is a restless wreck of a woman, returning to her childhood home in need of some comfort and closure.
Long after she‘d gone, she‘s full of memories of sweeter days: “These handprints on the front steps are mine,” she sings. This hillbilly mansion had been her mama’s dream for years, with the inspiration ripped right out of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. Now Lambert is spilling her guts to the new lady of the house. She drops one wonderful line after another, leaning on a stranger for some relief. (The poignant, most perfect couplet: “I bet you didn’t know under that live oak/My favorite dog is buried in the yard.”)
She seems too aware that she might be seeking something that’s deeply, irretrievably broken. With the slightest quaver in Lambert’s voice and the sound of whining steel, “House” ends–rightly–on an unresolved note. Four minutes is hardly enough to take care of such matters: “I got lost in this old world and forgot who I am,” she admits.
“House” is an ambitious ask for country radio, with good-time, test-marketed music dominating the airwaves and banishing ballads to the fringes of airtight playlists. By releasing a sad, spare number to programmers already itching for a fun-filled summer, she’s tossing off the weight of radio expectations. Lambert’s an artist who prefers organic storytelling instead of contrived commercial jingles for Jesus, cold beer and chewing tobacco. She’s rung up a couple million in record sales and earned rock critic cred in head-swelling proportions, all with an eye on career longevity rather than repeating the crimes of her country peers. Her every melody sends a message: Believe this hype.
With “The House That Built Me”–Lambert’s first single release without a co-writing credit [Songwriters: Tom Douglas, Allen Shamblin]–has shown her exquisite taste in songs again and shined a light on the conflicting emotions of coming home.
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