Image Courtesy of Pitchfork
By Renee Rasmussen
“What’s that song about? I don’t know, just give me a beer!”
A line heard in the background of the fun, upbeat song “Homegrown Tomatoes,” it easily captures the atmosphere of new country album The Marfa Tapes, which features country star Miranda Lambert with fellow friends and songwriters Jack Ingram and Jon Randall.
The Marfa Tapes was released at the perfect time, on track to be the country album of the summer. This album contains 15 songs, all of which were recorded by a ranch in the desert of (you guessed it) Marfa, Texas. It’s a mix of a demo and live album with no audience. It’s raw, funny, a little rough, and overall just three friends playing good music.
The album is so fun to listen to that the serious themes contained within the songs may take listeners by surprise. The opening track “In His Arms,” sung by Lambert, is a jaded love song most prominently shown in the lines, “I’ve been a rolling stone, the tumbleweed / Waiting for the right one to come find me / But the wrong one always set me free / I wish I was in his arms tonight.”
It’s a short track that highlights not only Lambert’s voice but also the raw sound of an unedited guitar, ending with the sounds of grass stirring in the landscape around the singers.
The trio continues this style with the fourth track “Am I Right or Amarillo,” featuring the classic country song setting of Amarillo, Texas. Although it begins as a soft hearted love song, it tricks listeners when it switches to a song about finding a lover on the road in the third verse, “My ring is on my keychain / Your diamond’s in your purse / It won’t feel like cheatin’ / If nobody gets hurt.” It’s a song that nods its hat towards the greats of country music, most notably Geroge Strait and his anthem “Amarillo by Morning.”
Lambert also showcases her roots with the songs, “Waxahachie,” “Ghost,” and “Geraldene.” Reminiscent of the classic revenge tracks Lambert is known for, “Ghost” is a slow, dark break-up song that makes revenge seem poetic. With the prominent sound of a guitar pick in the background, Lambert sings, “I replaced the headboard with a chiseled stone / Here lies the meanest man I’ve ever known / Go rest in pеace with every liе you ever told / ‘Cause now you’re just a ghost.”
Immediately following is the satirical “Geraldene,” which showcases the woman to woman country songs, similar to Dolly Parton’s “Joelene” and Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough.” It’s a song that makes fun of itself and its history, beginning with the line, “You’re trailer park pretty, but you’re never gonna be Jolene.” The song is humorous, with a serious theme, that is only made more obvious by the way Randall and Ingram laugh in the background as Lambert struggles and slightly stutters through the name Geraldene, said repeatedly throughout the song.
This humorous, upbeat style continues with the songs “Homegrown Tomatoes” and “Two-Step Down to Texas.” Easily one of the best and most fun tracks on the album, “Homegrown Tomatoes” is a strange combination of a party anthem, love ballad, and country tune. After the first chorus, Lambert can be heard giggling in the background, and as the song raps up they all laugh as Lambert says, “That was a fun one.” And it is. It’s a song whose lyrics make little sense, but it’s fun, upbeat, and the definition of “bonfire country.”
The trio does not take themselves too seriously on these tracks, shown in the way one yells “Last Call!” in the background of “Two-Step Down to Texas,” or the way Lambert almost forgets the start to the second verse in “Tequila Does,” causing her friends to burst into laughter as she attempts to recover. It isn’t a perfect album; it’s often interrupted by the landscape, laughter, or mistakes, but that’s the whole point. It’s a country album that brings back what country music truly is: a genre that appreciates music, stripped down and a little rough with the Texas sunrise shining through the guitar.
This is how the album ends, showing Texas with the song “Amazing Grace – West Texas.” It’s a love song to the land beginning with the verse, “Out in West Texas it hardly ever rains / But when it does its Amazing Grace / You can hear the cattle from a million miles away / To a cowboy’s heart it’s Amazing Grace.” As the song ends Lambert comments, “Beautiful,” and listeners can’t help but agree.