"We don't expect long answers when we ask children what they want to be when they grow up," writes the anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson in her landmark book about women improvising their realities, Composing a Life. Despite the infinite ways fate can turn, we look at the wide-eyed little ones in our midst and think: She will be a doctor. He will have two children. She will fall in love and stay in love with the right person, not like I did. We ask them to echo back our hopes as a way of quieting our fears.
Adults harbor similar tenacious expectations for themselves. It takes steel to accept uncertainty, even though it's all we really have. "I don't have the nerve to use my heart," Miranda Lambert sings exactly halfway through The Weight of These Wings; this double album, a set of songs perfectly pitched for uncertain times, is her way of embracing the long answer as an artistic strategy and a personal mission. Divided into two segments that trace a woman's steps away from the security of a coupled, anchored life and eventual return to both herself and the risk of intimacy, TWOTW (out Nov. 18) is the most musically and conceptually cohesive release yet from country music's most respected younger female star. It bears a strong connection to other works by contemporary country women demanding equal time and space with men, like Rosanne Cash, the Dixie Chicks and the Joni Mitchell of Hejira. But as much as this is a woman's album, deeply informed by Lambert's awareness of the limits and demands placed upon women who stray from easy ways, it's also her answer to the classic work of the Texas songwriters who formed her, especially Willie Nelson, whose Red Headed Stranger informs TWOTW's sound and scope.