Miranda Lambert Revels in Being the “Keeper of the Flame”

photo: Brad Coolidge

When the Miranda Lambert camp announced the next single they’d be sending to country radio was the mid-tempo “Keeper of the Flame,” it wasn’t regarded as a bad pick by any stretch, but it also wasn’t a selection from her recent Platinum-selling double album The Weight of These Wings that leapt off the page as a smart pick for today’s radio landscape.

But that probably wasn’t the most important consideration that worked itself into the calculus. After all, we know the relationship between Miranda and radio isn’t all that rosy these days. It may not really matter what she releases, they still probably won’t allow it to crack the Top 20. So you might as well release a song with a good message.

Sometimes the message with the greatest impact isn’t the one served most directly, but the one that burrows deep in the subconscious. With all the debate these days about the level of roots in today’s mainstream country music, and the amount of women allowed to share their voices through the format, “Keeper of the Flame” hits about perfectly on these subplots. It also turned out to be about the perfect message when Miranda Lambert became the most awarded artist in ACM history Sunday (4-15) evening when she walked away with Female Vocalist of the Year, and Song of the Year for “Tin Man,” which she co-wrote with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall.

It’s a little ironic that the reigning ACM Song of the Year never got to the Top 20 on country radio, especially since it did that very thing on the Hot Country Songs chart, denoting a stronger consumer sentiment. But that’s the way it is going for women on country radio these days. It would be foolish to expect anything better for “Keeper of the Flame,” but it made for the perfect underpinning for the message Miranda Lambert wanted to deliver at the ACMs as one of the last women superstars left in mainstream country.

“Standing here knowing that, it’s a lot of pressure, but I know that it’s so important that I keep that attitude that I’ve had, because that’s why I’m standing here right now,” Miranda Lambert said backstage at the ACMs, holding her new trophies. “I’m here because of the women who have stood here before me. Really it is. That’s why it was special to perform ‘Keeper of the Flame’ tonight for sure.”

Undoubtedly Miranda Lambert has suffered from the current regime in mainstream country that won’t allow women equal opportunity on the radio waves. But in a strange way she’s also the beneficiary. Mainstream country’s inability to launch new women in the industry is the reason so many industry awards continue to flow to Miranda, especially since Taylor Swift left the genre mid career, and in recent years, Carrie Underwood has taken extended periods away from radio and the stage. This leaves Miranda Lambert the last woman standing, or the quite literal “Keeper of the Flame.”

Beyond commercial considerations, it is imperative that Miranda keep the legacy alive, even if she’s not the ideal candidate for purists, or some wonder why Carrie Underwood continues to be overlooked. “She can sing me under the table,” Miranda said backstage at the ACMs. “What I love about her is no matter what, she always represents country music in the most classy, incredible way. I’ve never seen her waver or ever have a bad performance or hit a bad note.”

When asked why there were no women considered for the 2018 ACM Entertainer of the Year, Miranda remarked, “…I don’t understand what’s going on with that, but I know that there’s gonna be a change, and I know that if we just keep plowing ahead it will get recognized and have its moment for sure.”

And it may not be Miranda Lambert who finally receives that distinction, but it will be her effort to carry the legacy of women in country, and quality songwriters and performers like Jack Ingram and Jon Randall forward that will persevere, just like Miranda is doing now from the efforts of Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and so many before them to make sure everyone’s voice is represented and raised in country music, and the flame endures.