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Miranda Lambert: Country's rebel girl grows up

Four albums in, the rowdy Nashville upstart has become an undisputed star. Here, she talks music, mayhem, and life with new husband Blake Shelton

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You can’t just go bow hunting on any old street. That’s what Miranda Lambert learned while touring in advance of her latest album, Four the Record. During a recent stop in Chicago, the 28-year-old Texas native decided to do a little preshow target practice, shooting arrows in the alleyway behind Joe’s Bar — and ended up scaring one bystander half to death.

Please forgive her, random terrified stranger. It’s been only four years since she got her first bow, a present from her now husband Blake Shelton, 35, the charming country singer and judge of NBC’s singing competition The Voice. She’s still getting the hang of the etiquette behind the sport. ”One time I took some shots with my bow inside the place where I was playing,” she says as she kicks back on the couch at the Tennessee headquarters of her record label, RCA Nashville. ”But some guy told me that’s against the law or something?”

Such are the problems plaguing the angel-faced rebel gal whom Esquire magazine once named ”Terrifying Woman of the Year.” After taking third place on the Idol-esque talent show Nashville Star in 2003, Lambert achieved cult-heroine status with songs about owning her scorned-womanhood (”Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”) and literally burning for love (”Kerosene”). But it was 2009’s breakthrough Revolution that made her a bona fide star, not just for her tales of turning the tables on her cheating man (”White Liar”) but also for the softer you-can’t-go-home-again ballad ”The House That Built Me,” which earned Lambert her first Grammy. Now even her side projects, like the recent Hell on Heels, the debut from her all-female trio Pistol Annies, bow in Billboard‘s top five.

Sporting a Merle Haggard trucker cap and mixing up another ”Mirandarita” in a plastic cup (her recipe: Crystal Light raspberry lemonade, a shot of Bacardi, and a splash of Sprite Zero), the 5’4” singer looks exactly like the little blond outlaw on which she’s built her multiplatinum persona. Taylor Swift she ain’t. On Four the Record, she’s still bragging about loading her gun for a joyride (”Fastest Girl in Town”) and threatening an ex with arson (”Mama’s Broken Heart”). But at a time when country music is dominated by middle-aged men in cowboy hats and girlish waifs with role-model-worthy messages, Lambert’s the rare top-tier talent whose music is aimed at full-grown women. And her followers, the ”Ran Fans,” love her for that.

So does Shelton. Asked what separates Lambert from other high-profile country singers, he quips, ”The fact that Miranda doesn’t give a crap about being a high-profile singer.”

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Lambert’s childhood provided her with rich material for her music: She and her brother were raised in the small town of Lindale (83 miles from Dallas), where their parents worked as private investigators specializing in tracking down cheating spouses. (Paula Jones’ lawyers hired them to help in their sexual harassment case against Bill Clinton.) Because her father was worried about local philanderers seeking revenge on his family, he bought her a BB gun when she was 5. When she was 15, he opened the family’s home to an abused woman and her young daughter, and Lambert listened to the mother’s horror stories.

”She had a black eye, and she was bawling,” the singer remembers, her own eyes widening. ”I had heard about domestic abuse, but that was when it became real. Obviously, that influenced [the 2008 hit] ‘Gunpowder and Lead.”’ Lambert is currently licensed to carry a handgun — on her forearm, there’s a tattoo of two entwined revolvers emblazoned with angel wings — and she says that knowing she can defend herself makes her feel safe.

Her background may help explain why the singer mostly refuses to sing sentimental love songs. When she and Shelton married on a ranch outside San Antonio in May, they walked back up the aisle to Roy Rogers and Dale Evans”’Happy Trails” and served venison from deer they’d killed themselves. ”It was exactly what I wanted,” Lambert recalls. ”Everything was perfect.” But after the ceremony, she confesses, ”I had this panic attack, like, ‘I don’t know if I want to be a housewife! Oh my God! I’m a rock star. I can’t do this!”’

That anxiety is reflected on Four the Record: When she harmonizes with her husband, she does it on ”Better in the Long Run,” a melancholy but resolute song about a couple who can’t stay together. (Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley, a co-writer on the song, explains, ”Miranda is not always keen on singing something too mushy.”)

On ”Same Old You,” a woman calls off her engagement, and the Patty Loveless-aided ballad ”Dear Diamond” is a mea culpa from a bride who’s cheating on the guy who put that rock on her finger.

”Diamond” in particular might raise a few eyebrows. Shelton was still married to his first wife, Kaynette Williams, when he met Lambert in 2005. The two were matched up to perform ”You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma” for a special on CMT, and the chemistry was instant. ”I knew better, like, this is off-limits,” a teary-eyed Lambert told Dateline in August. ”My parents are private investigators, for God’s sake. I’ve seen this my whole life — affairs.”

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She may still be wrapping her head around the institution of marriage, but it’s clear that Lambert and Shelton are happy together. In July, when Shelton was booked to perform on the Today show the same day that Lambert was booked on Good Morning America, they sparred on Twitter about which one would get the bigger audience. Lambert had the more compelling argument: “I have boobs.” To which Shelton replied, “True, but only two.” (He won.)

“Blake’s hilarious,” she says. “I used to take myself way too seriously. Being with him has made me come off of that.” And yet, becoming Mrs. Shelton hasn’t changed her obsession with love-gone-wrong stories. Even now, when she’s on the tour bus with Pistol Annies, she still loves watching Snapped, Oxygen’s true-crime show that profiles female killers. ”These women will put antifreeze in Gatorade and give it to their husbands!” she exclaims. ”They’re hardcore!”

Then her voice gets quiet. ”It’s so weird,” she murmurs. ”I watched one about this woman whose husband had been beating the crap out of her for years. Finally, one day she shot him in the bedroom and shut the door — and left him there for two years. The road it happened on was County Road 233.” She waits a beat. ”That was where the guy gets shot in my song ‘Gunpowder and Lead.”’

Does she feel responsible? She laughs. ”You know, women have come up to me and said, ‘You gave me the courage to leave after 10 years of him hitting me.’ That’s the best compliment I could get.”

She stops, suddenly aware of her words. ”But don’t shoot him,” she adds, grinning. ”Or don’t blame it on me if you do.”

Melissa Maerz

The Rest Of Country’s New A-List

We still love Garth and Reba, but Miranda’s not the only one who’s got us excited about a new generation of superstars.

Jason Aldean

Hits like ”Dirt Road Anthem” and the Kelly Clarkson collab ”Don’t You Wanna Stay” have propelled Aldean’s album My Kinda Party to double-platinum status.

Taylor Swift

Some call her pop, others say she’s country. But if the girl can keep churning out blockbusters like 2010’s Speak Now, both formats will be very happy to have her.

Zac Brown Band

Seven of the Georgia harmonizers’ first eight singles topped the country chart — and their 2010 Grammy win for Best New Artist wasn’t too shabby either.

Blake Shelton

He doesn’t sell quite as many albums as his wife, but the Voice judge’s last five singles — including ”God Gave Me You” — have all gone to No. 1.

Lady Antebellum

Whether or not they’ll ever match the success of ”Need You Now,” the trio’s latest, Own the Night, has sold an impressive 687,000 copies in just six weeks.

The Band Perry

The sibling band’s breakout ballad ”If I Die Young” has proved unkillable: A smash on both country and pop radio, it has been downloaded more than 3 million times. —Grady Smith