Mary Lambert: the 10 records that changed my life
Not many rookies get to knock it out of the park their first time at bat, but that's exactly what Mary Lambert did in 2012 when she wrote and sang the resounding hook for Same Love, the LGBT anthem by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis that topped the charts and scored a Song Of The Year nomination.
“Doing that song was a propelling factor in what I want to accomplish," Lambert says. "The truth is, I never wanted to be a pop star. I wanted to be a politician and then a teacher. So for me, I try to create music as catharsis for other people to move forward. Healing is the key to it. If I can help give people strength in some way through what I do, that’s what really matters.”
Lambert titled her recently released debut album Heart On My Sleeve, and with lyrics like "I've got bi-polar disorder/ my shit's not in order/ I'm overweight/ I'm always late/ I've got too many things to say," from the lead single Secrets, she certainly lives up to its statement of purpose. "I came out of the spoken-word community," she explains. "That’s a very vulnerable platform for storytelling. You’re processing your life through words on the page, so there's nowhere to hide, but the act of sharing it with people live is what’s really powerful. I think that comes out in my music. It's sort of built into what I do.”
Lambert transforms Rick Springfield's sparky 1981 hit Jessie's Girl into a haunting, elegiac gender-neutral torch ballad. Originally, the track was slated for the TV show Grey's Anatomy, but when it wasn't used, Lambert decided that it was too good to shelve. "The whole thing turned into a golden opportunity to include it on my album," she says. "It’s one of my favorite songs in the world. I wrote the arrangement in a day – it came quite easily."
And has Mr. Springfield weighed in with an opinion? "I haven't heard from him yet," Lambert says with a laugh. "I think he knows about it and might have heard it. hope he thinks I’ve done the song some justice.”
Amy Grant – Heart In Motion (1991)
“This is the first album I remember listening to and becoming obsessed with. I grew up Pentecostal in a very Christian church, and Amy Grant was the one pop artist we were allowed to listen to because she was a crossover. I loved this record and sang it at a talent show when I was seven years old.
“It holds up beautifully. I listened to it a few months ago, and I loved it every bit as much as I did when I was a kid. It’s so joyous and fun. She’s a wonderful singer. It’s impossible to put it on and not get into it.”
Dixie Chicks – Wide Open Spaces (1998)
“This was one of the first records I sang along to and learned how to belt. I also learned how to use my ‘breaks’ with it. A break is a kind of country-style of singing – it's the break between your head voice and your nasal voice. You hear a lot of country singers do this. A lot of people call it a ‘flip.’
“I would belt this entire album in my living room. My parents were OK with the Dixie Chicks – by this time, we’d gotten kicked out of the Pentecostal church.”
Radiohead – OK Computer (1997)
“As I got older, I fell in love with Radiohead, and OK Computer is one of my favorite albums of theirs. Sonically, the tone of the guitars on tracks like Electioneering just rips right through me.
“Thom Yorke’s singing is so cool. Even when you have no idea what he’s saying, he still takes you on a journey. This was my perfect teen-angst album. I had heard songs of theirs on the radio, but OK Computer was my proper introduction to them. I love it so much.”
Ella Fitzgerald – The Complete Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks (1993)
“I was very torn between this one and Judy Garland’s greatest hits, but I think I’ve listened to the Ella collection more. Her inflections are so perfect. I’ve spent a lot of time studying her vibrato. She’s simply one of the best at that.
“She has such a playful way of relaying melody and lyrics to the listener. She just gets inside a song and makes it her own. Who doesn’t want to slow dance to her, you know? I learned jazz standards early on, and Ella’s singing really spoke to me.”
Death Cab For Cutie – Transatlanticism (2003)
“This album is so cohesive. From the tempo changes to the sounds of each song, everything flows beautifully. And whoa, each song just guts me. Ben Gibbard’s placement of lyrics is incredibly smart and emotionally on-target.
“Everybody that I talk to who’s listened to the record feels the same way. Each song has a powerful moment of total 'relatability.' I must’ve cried a million tears to this record. It just knocks me out.”
Bon Iver – For Emma, Forever Ago (2007)
“Out of all the records on this list, I’ve probably listened to this one more than anything else. There was a year when I listened to it every single night. If I had to count, I think I’ve listened to it over 400 times, at least.
“There’s something really pure and raw about every song on this record. The lyrics are up for interpretation, which I kind of like – everything plays in your head; what matters is, the music puts you in a mood, or rather, it gets its mood across. The production is very smart and sparse, showing you what one person with a guitar in a cabin in the woods can do.”
Tori Amos – Under The Pink (1994)
“I love the pairing of production and performance here. Because Tori is such a unique artist as both a songwriter and performer, she needed a producer like Eric Rosse, somebody who understand how to frame her songs. Putting some sort of standard production on top of the material just wouldn’t have worked. That’s part of the reason why I sought out Eric for my album.
“Tori is another fearless artist I admire on so many levels. This is probably my favorite record of hers. Everything about it moves me and makes me feel something. That’s probably the best thing you can say about any record.”
Courtney Marie Andrews – No One's Slate Is Clean (2010)
“It’s not a well-known record, but it’s one that’s really meant something to me. Along with Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago, it’s an album that I’ve listened to for years – I always seem to have it on repeat.
“She’s a very smart, emotional lyricist – a storyteller. But it’s not just in her words; there’s stories in her voice. She’s about my age, but she sounds so seasoned. Years of experience comes through in her singing. Watching her live is something to savor. I’m a huge fan.”
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)
“Kendrick has this capability to say things that nobody’s said before. This is pretty important because I feel as though we’re coming up in an age where everybody has said everything. When you hear somebody who has an original perspective and can break through, it’s something special.
“As a performer, he’s got it. I love his cadence and this cool edge he has about him. His words, the way he puts himself across – he’s unlike anybody else out there.”
Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (2012)
“I love the cohesion on this album. The tracklisting is so well thought-out. He’s audacious, too. He did a song called Crack Rock – I mean, who does that? And he did it in such a cool, cool way. I love that.
“I really respect Frank as a writer. He doesn’t say something unless he has something bold to say. Rather than just indulge in media saturation and b.s., he makes every moment count for something. Great stuff.”