Miranda Lambert is back, as bold and fun as she ever was, with a new album of rock and punk-influenced country hits that reflect a woman happily cracking jokes on her haters and stepping into a new chapter of her life and career.
"I kind of have my fire back and I'm not so internal and broody as I was four years ago," Lambert said of "Wildcard," her seventh album dropping Friday.
This is her first solo record since putting out the excellent 2016 double album, "The Weight of These Wings," a highly personal and critically acclaimed record that came after her divorce from Blake Shelton and won album of the year at the Academy of Country Music Awards.
"I'm 35. I went through a divorce," Lambert said. "I'm thankful that fans allowed me that time to do that. I'm just going through stuff everybody else goes through."
Now Lambert, who surprised many earlier this year by announcing her marriage to New York City police officer Brendan McLoughlin, is returning to the rock 'n' roll sound that she displayed on her 2005 debut "Kerosene" with the help of Nashville producer Jay Joyce. Joyce had played guitar on her first three records, but this was the first time he took the lead as producer for Lambert.
"Writing for this record, I don't know, I felt like the color came back, so the imaging reflects that and the songs reflect that," said Lambert. "Even the wardrobe is a little bit brighter."
Joyce, who has worked with Eric Church, Little Big Town and Brothers Osborne, pushed her out of her comfort zone on songs like "Locomotive," a Joan Jett-meets-Patty Griffin rocker in which Lambert barrels through fuzzed out guitars and harmonica.
"Jay's idea to kind of cut it in a punk way was brilliant and I wasn't sure I could pull it off, but sure enough, we did," said Lambert.
She also wrote with Luke Dick, who has written songs with Dierks Bentley and Kip Moore, and as a side gig, fronts a new wave punk band called Republican Hair. Lambert and her longtime songwriting pal Natalie Hemby would go to his East Nashville house with a cooler of booze and snacks for nighttime writing sessions and Dick would cue up different tracks as inspiration.
He played her a bit of a slick, new wave rock song called "Mess With My Head" that he initially thought might work for his band.
"I'm a kid of the '80s and I gravitate sometimes toward things that I grew up on, whether it's the Cars or Joan Jett or whatever," Dick said. "I've always thought Miranda was the closest thing to Joan Jett country has."
Lambert's natural wit and self-effacing humor come out on songs like "White Trash" or "Pretty Bitchin'" — in which Lambert declares, "I'm pretty from the back, kinda pretty in the face."
"My strong suit as a writer I feel like is sarcasm," Lambert said proudly. "Whether it's sad or happy or fun, I've kind of built a career on being kitschy and a little snide."
She's had to build up that thick skin after years of being hounded by tabloids, whether it was about her marriage and divorce to Shelton, her weight or her subsequent romances. Now she shrugs it off as free press.
"My guitar player who has been with me for 17 years, Scotty Wray, texted me yesterday and said, 'I just read at the Kroger that you're pregnant. Congrats again,'" Lambert said, who noted that the lies spread about her are almost always about her getting pregnant. "Guys, sometimes I just eat cheeseburgers. That's all it is."
But even as Lambert and other female stars of the genre, including Kacey Musgraves, Carrie Underwood and Maren Morris, are putting out the most lauded music of their careers, their music is mostly ignored by country radio, while the airplay charts are churning with dozens of male country artists.
Lambert has been taking out other female artists on her Roadside Bars and Pink Guitars tour for years, has her own female trio, the Pistol Annies, and created a college scholarship for female artists. But the Grammy winner can't wrap her head around radio's lack of support.
"I'm on the road now and I see how much it helps when someone knows your new single," Lambert said. "But also I went through this whole period of 'Weight of These Wings,' and won song of the year and album of the year and I didn't have anything on the radio at all."
Lambert also enthusiastically endorsed Underwood for the Country Music Association's highest prize, entertainer of the year. Garth Brooks, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban and Eric Church will compete with Underwood at the Nov. 13 show.
"I'm a huge fan of everyone in that category," Lambert said. "But if you think about someone who hosted the CMAs pregnant, then started an all-female tour and then had a baby and then went right back on the road three months later... she has a brand, Calia by Carrie Underwood, and it lifts up women. She does Monday Night Football. I just feel like as a whole entertainer of the year should be someone that entertains in all facets of music."
Lambert, who has more CMA Awards than other female artist, is nominated for female vocalist of the year, a trophy she has won seven times, and will be performing her new single, "It All Comes Out in the Wash," which Lambert said kind of sums up her new album.
"The whole theme of the record is it all comes out in the wash," Lambert said. "There are really bad times in everybody's journey, but somehow you're gonna smile again and I think this record reflects that."
Dr. Dre, who has produced hits for Eminem, Tupac, Snoop Dogg and more, will be honored by the Recording Academy for his trailblazing production work.
The Recording Academy announced Friday that its Producers & Engineers Wing will pay tribute the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer on Jan. 22 at Village Studios in Los Angeles. The event takes place four days before the 2020 Grammys.
Dre has won six Grammys, three of which he took home as a producer or engineer. Born in Compton, he broke out on the music scene as a co-founding member of N.W.A., producing some of the group's groundbreaking 1988 debut album, "Straight Outta Compton."
He went on to produce his own hits and multiplatinum albums, along with crafting music for Eminem, Tupac, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, Eve, Jay-Z, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Xzibit, the Game, Anderson .Paak and many more.
He also found success outside of rap, producing Top 10 pop hits for Gwen Stefani, Michel'le and Mary J. Blige, helping the R&B queen top the Billboard Hot 100 chart for the first time with "Family Affair."
Dre founded Beats Electronics in 2008 with Jimmy Iovine and six years later they launched a streaming subscription service, Beats Music. Apple acquired both in a $3 billion deal in 2014.
Tyler Perry's new Atlanta studio will be home to the 2019 Miss Universe competition, a major showcase for the sprawling complex built on a former Confederate army base.
The televised competition in which women from more than 90 countries compete for the crown of Miss Universe will air live from Tyler Perry Studios on Dec. 8. The three-hour show, hosted by Steve Harvey for the fifth year, will be broadcast on Fox and Telemundo.
The show will end with reigning champion Catriona Gray of the Philippines crowning her successor.
Perry opened his 330-acre (134-hectare) studio earlier this month. Its 12 soundstages are each named after seminal black actors and actresses.
Sometimes it seems like Gugu Mbatha-Raw is playing some crazy version of showbiz Bingo.
This is a woman who has assembled an astonishing variety of roles in her 36 years. Big-budget Hollywood blockbuster? Sure, "A Wrinkle in Time." What about an 18th-century English drama? Of course, "Belle." Any romantic comedies? Check out "Larry Crowne."
She's been on Broadway, in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" no less. And a classic Disney musical with "Beauty and the Beast." Sci-fi? Of course, look at "Cloverfield Paradox." Voicing a puppet? Check out "The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance."
"I always like the idea of being a chameleon," Mbatha-Raw says. "I always like to feel like I'm stretching myself and doing something opposite to what I did before. Because that keeps me interested and hopefully keeps other people interested."
The actress has a clutch of projects coming out this fall and they're typically diverse: the film noir feature "Motherless Brooklyn," the flagship Apple TV Plus streaming drama "The Morning Show" and the searing indie film "Farming."
Mbatha-Raw plays a love interest opposite Edward Norton in the actor-director's adaption of Jonathan Lethem's 1999 novel "Motherless Brooklyn" about a private eye with Tourette's syndrome.
Norton went back in time to plunk the story in 1959 and created Mbatha-Raw's character, a community activist from Harlem who forges an unexpected bond with the detective.
"They're both overlooked in different ways," she says. "I think they see something in each other where no one else sort of sees them, which I thought was really beautiful."
Mbatha-Raw is an actress who does her research. For "A Wrinkle in Time," she visited NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, so naturally she went to great lengths to get the tone right — walking around Harlem, listening to Miles Davis and Billie Holiday.
"When you're filming in New York, the history is all around you," she says. "And it's such a treat because it really grounds you in a sense of place and time," she said.
Mbatha-Raw goes from the '50s to the present day for "The Morning Show," a series about the cutthroat off-camera world of a morning TV show that stars Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carell.
She plays an ambitious talent booker and says the show is deeply influenced by our post-#MeToo era media landscape. "It goes to some really interesting dark places," she says. "It's quite juicy and Machiavellian."
Mbatha-Raw graduated from London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and soon found parts on TV and the stage, like on "Doctor Who" and opposite Jude Law in "Hamlet." Subsequent highlights include the Emmy-winning "Black Mirror" episode "San Junipero" and her first starring film role in "Belle."
Her work often explores race — as she did playing a biracial aristocrat in "Belle" — but she's also appeared in work in which her own race is not commented on, like in the multicultural cast of "A Wrinkle in Time."
Mbatha-Raw's father grew up under apartheid in South Africa and her mother is white and British. "Identity interests me," she says. "I like the freedom to be a three-dimensional artist that can explore all sides of humanity."
She has steered sharply into the topic of racial identity in one current project — "Farming," the harrowing, real-life tale of an African immigrant to England in the 1970s who somehow became a skinhead. It's based on the life of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who directs, co-stars and wrote the screenplay.
Mbatha-Raw plays a kindly teacher, an amalgam of three or four real people who helped get Akinnuoye-Agbaje's life back on track. The film is a terrifying look at identity and belonging.
"When I first read the script, I thought, 'Oh, this is brutal. This is really harrowing.' But I think you have to go on that journey. And I think it's one of those ugly parts of our British history that we need to heal from. I think you have to sort of acknowledge these parts of history."
Akinnuoye-Agbaje had worked with Mbatha-Raw before — notable on the film "Concussion" — and needed an actress who exuded benevolence and purity. "While she's an amazing talent as an actress, she has that as a human being," he says. "It's just so effortless for her."
Mbatha-Raw, who in 2017 became a Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services to drama, makes her home in Los Angeles these days. This year marks the 10th anniversary of her first visit to America.
"I definitely consider myself British still, but I love America. I just love the spirit here. I love the work that gets made here. I think it's a fascinating bundle of contradictions and it's a dynamic place to live and work."
Jonathan Lethem's novel about a private eye with Tourette's syndrome, "Motherless Brooklyn," starts with a brilliant burst of uncontrolled profanity and an explanation of its protagonist's condition.
"Words rush out of the cornucopia of my brain to course over the surface of the world, tickling reality like fingers on piano keys. Caressing, nudging. They're an invisible army on a peacekeeping mission, a peaceable horde. They mean no harm."
Lethem lets loose a riot of language across the subsequent pages, remaking a classic detective story with an uncontrollable flow of words. In his intelligent, engrossing and derivative adaptation of "Motherless Brooklyn," Edward Norton has something tidier in mind.
Norton, who wrote, directed, produced and stars in the film, has shifted the story from the '90s to the '50s, taking a then-contemporary twist on an old genre and sending it back to its late-noir heyday, along with all the period-appropriate trench coats, automobiles and venetian blinds. Norton first sought out the book more than 20 years ago — this is a longtime "passion project" finally come to fruition — and it's clear that he wanted to enlarge the story's ambitions. He's after a "Chinatown" for New York.
Lionel Essrog (Norton) is private dick whose mentor Frank Minna (Bruce Willis, whose infrequent appearance in movies of late has only heightened his powerful presence), adopted Lionel and raised him in his private investigator business. When Minna is killed in the film's opening scenes, Essrog throws himself into discovering the murderers, whipping up his fellow detectives — Tony (Bobby Cannavale), Gilbert (Ethan Suplee) and Danny (Dallas Roberts) — to join in the search.
Essrog, at times donning the guise of a reporter, follows a trail of clues that leads him across the metropolis and into a broad city hall conspiracy that rises to the penthouse-heights of New York power. Along the way are trips through a not-yet-razed Penn Station, a handsome Washington Square Park and a pivotal Harlem jazz club (where Michael K. Williams plays a trumpet player). He befriends a black attorney, Laura Ross (Gugu Mbatha-Raw), who helps him realize the full scope of the corruption revolving around "slum clearance" policies of redevelopment, and how Minna figures into it.
Norton is leading Essrog into foundational midcentury New York history. Just as Jake Gittes unwittingly uncovered the water supply sins on which Los Angeles was built in "Chinatown," ''Motherless Brooklyn" winds its way through the neighborhood-destroying freeway laying of Robert Moses' New York. "Motherless Brooklyn" is more indebted, ultimately, to Robert Caro's "The Power Broker" than Lethem's novel.
The Robert Moses doppelganger here is named Moses Randolph and played with perfection by Alec Baldwin, who's making something of a habit of playing New York's real-estate villains. In one fine moment with a large map of New York behind him, he insists that he's not above the law, "I'm ahead of it."
To some, this well-known history (there is also a Jane Jacobs-like figure protesting Randolph's brute-force policies) is too familiar to be particularly intriguing. It's a little like a gumshoe wandering into a text book. But not everyone is deeply versed in Moses' overwhelming imprint on New York City. And what makes "Motherless Brooklyn" respectable and even novel is this grafting of social history onto a genre tale. It's not exactly commonplace in today's movies to be taken down a rabbit hole about urban development. It's a laudable impulse, and Norton's film provides a welcome reminder of what we've been missing.
There's certainly more to be gained from that side of "Motherless Brooklyn" than the showcase of Norton's performance. The actor, who famously played a stuttering schizophrenic in "Primal Fear," largely pulls it off with a full diet of tics, mannerisms, jerks and blurts. "It makes me say funny things, but I'm not trying to be funny," Essrog, nicknamed "Freakshow," tells someone. But the performance never feels like much more than an acting challenge.
Norton, who last directed the 2000 romantic comedy "Keeping the Faith," has made a resolutely sturdy movie, filled with excellent actors (Willem Dafoe is also in the mix) and composed — Dick Pope ("Mr. Turner") supplies the slick and shadowy cinematography — with a vivid feel for New York. "Motherless Brooklyn" is done well enough that you wish it had struck out on its own path, rather than crib from Robert Towne and Roman Polanski. It's hard to forget it, but that's "Chinatown."
"Motherless Brooklyn," a Warner Bros. release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for language throughout including some sexual references, brief drug use, and violence. Running time: 144 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.