Grammy-winning Nashville thrush Miranda Lambert initially overlooked the visual discrepancy on her latest album “Wildcard,” her seventh.
“But my songwriting friend Natalie Hemby pointed it out to me, that this is the first time I’ve ever been smiling on the cover,” she says, contrasting it with her scowling countenance on 2016’s 24-track “The Weight of These Wings,” which darkly detailed her painful divorce from fellow country star Blake Shelton. “On that record I dove in pretty deep, but it was what I needed at the time,” she says. “And I love sad songs more than anybody, but with this one, I needed to come back and kick a little ass.”
The singer, who hits the Bay Area this week, does just that in fine self-deprecating form on the twangy anthems “White Trash,” “Pretty Bitchin’,” and “Way Too Pretty for Prison,” a duet with Maren Morris.
Ribald wit has been her signature since her 2005 debut “Kerosene,” which she cut after placing third on the TV competition “Nashville Star,” and it echoes trailblazing “Fist City”-era Loretta Lynn, whom she adores.
“Back when you weren’t supposed to say things like that, Loretta was singing about wanting to hit her husband over the head with a frying pan, and it was pretty amazing and not an easy road for her,” says Lambert, 36, who has even more lyrical fun with The Pistol Annies, her snarky side project with Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley, which issued “Interstate Gospel,” its third recording in 2018.
Friends had begun to wonder if Lambert would ever pen a truly joyous paean. But things have been going swimmingly for her of late. MuttNation Foundation — the animal-rescue charity she launched in 2009 with her mother Bev — is bigger than ever now, and has raised over $4 million. “That’s what keeps you going — there’s always another little soul to be saved,” says the activist, whose 400-acre Tennessee ranch houses five horses, nine dogs, two cats and several rabbits she just adopted.
In November 2018, Lambert’s Annies cohorts set her up on a blind date with New York City police officer Brendan McLoughlin, whom they met while he was working security for their “Good Morning America” appearance; Three days later, she started writing the rosy “Wildcard”; two months later, they secretly married. Her father was also a cop, which underscores her guiding show biz tenet, she says: “A man in a uniform and a dog — those are the only two things that you can trust in this world.”
IF YOU GO
Where: SAP Center, 525 West Santa Clara St., San Jose
When: 7 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $22 to $86
Best Coast bandleader Bethany Cosentino is smiling this year, too, after doing her own dance with darkness, one that nearly ended her sunny, decade-long career.
After the duo’s last 2015 effort “California Nights,” she withdrew from the music business, moved into a spooky, possibly-haunted old house in the Burbank hills, and sank into a withering writer’s-block tailspin. “I was very isolated, and struggling with depression and being creative,” she recalls. “I really, truthfully thought that I might be done. I hit a really intense bottom where I was like, ‘I don’t know if I’ll ever get out of this.’”
But she and guitarist Bobb Bruno have rebounded with the chiming new “Always Tomorrow,” which they’ll premiere at Noise Pop this week. In conversely chiming ditties like “Wreckage,” “Different Light,” and “”For the First Time,” it painstakingly charts its composer’s descent into the maelstrom.
“The record kind of speaks for itself about everything that’s been going on with me,” says Cosentino, who decompressed by making a playful children’s album called “Best Kids” in 2018.
Slowly, inspiration returned, once she started mapping a path to serious self-improvement.
“I really needed to change the broken patterns of the things in my life that weren’t working, and a lot of that came through therapy. Plus, I was reading a lot of books like Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’ and hiking a lot, just trying to get myself out of that house, and out of my comfort zone.”
For over a year, she was feeling almost Howard Hughes—reclusive, and an average day usually consisted of staying in bed and getting lost in reality TV like Bravo’s “Van Der Pump Rules.”
As she flexed her songwriting muscles, her manager’s phone began ringing. Fred Savage had a satirical new fake-news program on Fox, “What Just Happened?”, and he wanted Best Coast as its house band, while Los Angeles chanteuse Lana Del Rey invited Cosentino to join her onstage for some suitably-spooky BC covers In Chicago last winter.
Bringing things full circle, she was able to feature four cast members from her beloved “Van Der Pump” in the band’s latest video, “Everything Has Changed.”
“Now I feel really grateful that I went through everything that I went through, because I got to write a bunch of songs about the experience,” says Cosentino. “And I get to remember that if I can make it through that? Hey, I can make it through pretty much anything!”
IF YOU GO
Where: Regency Ballroom, 1300 Van Ness Ave., S.F.
When: 9 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $25 to $30
Contact: (415) 673-5716, www.axs.com
The past two years have rattled many artists, it seems, like Lalin St. Juste, the Haitian-descended vocalist for Oakland’s jazzy outfit The Seshen, and she — like Cosentino — spent much of her latest “CYAN” disc documenting her depression, in “Dive,” “Don’t Answer” and other diary-stark material. At one point, the situation grew so dire, she couldn’t even get out of bed each day, no matter how sunny it was outside. “We all suffer at various times in our lives, and sometimes there’s just this…this sadness that can creep in,” she says, sighing. “So there were moments where I just surrendered to it and allowed myself to feel it all.”
You met your bandmate Akiyoshi Ehara while attending college in Ghana. How did you end up out there?
My family is from Haiti, but I had never been as a child. So when I finally had the opportunity to go out of the country and go somewhere connected to my heritage, I decided to study abroad and go to Ghana and just see what it was like. And it was amazing.
What have you discovered about your Haitian roots?
They connect me to my spirituality. Haiti is known for holding on to a lot of aspects of itself. For example, vodou is still very big in Haiti, and in The Seshen I’ve been able to bring that in for this album. I was really inspired by going to the sea, and that Lwa spirit of Haitian vodou called La Sirene, or The Siren. I’ve always felt such a strong connection to the sea, and I do have an altar for her in my room, and I’ve gotten a lot of support for honoring her. I mean, the first time I went to the sea to bring her a gift, there was a bouquet of flowers waiting for me there, embedded in some rocks.
Is vodou pretty misunderstood?
Oh yeah. It’s a religion of the people, and of nature. It’s beautiful, and it’s in all of our roots, even though its story has been twisted and some people don’t fully embrace it. But we’re continually trying to put the good out, with art, in and of itself. So I continue to find hope, just through our own resilience.
IF YOU GO
Where: Rickshaw Stop, 155 Fell St., S.F.
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday
Contact: (415) 861-2011, rickshawstop.com