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Strait back to Alltel

A record-setter, in more ways that one, brings along a precocious burgeoning Nashville star to Alltel Arena.

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STRAIIT: Coming here.
  • STRAIIT: Coming here.

Miranda Lambert looks a wee bit younger than the 21 years old she’s supposed to be. But she’s old enough to know not to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth: in this case being asked to travel with veteran country crooner George Strait on a 25-city tour that includes North Little Rock and Alltel Arena.

“It absolutely is great. I can’t believe it’s happening, I’m so excited about it,” Lambert said by telephone last week before the tour started. “Everyone who has ever been on the road in concert with George Strait has gone on to have a good career … I met George at the [Country Music Association] awards, and I hope I’ll get to spend some time with him while we’re on the road.”

Strait, along with Lambert and Arkansas native Tracy Lawrence, will appear in a 7:30 p.m. show at Alltel Arena on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Tickets are $51.25 and $61.25 through Ticketmaster (all Harvest Foods stores, www.ticketmaster.com, 975-7575) or the arena box office (975-9000).

Lambert, a third-place finisher on the USA Network’s “Nashville Star” in 2003, hails, like Strait, from Texas, and her first album has set tongues a-waggin’ around Nashville, and not just because she looks great. She’s one of only six country artists EVER to debut No. 1, according to SoundScan sales records, and her CD, “Kerosene,” has gone gold (more than 500,000 in sales).

Strait, meanwhile, has had 51 No. 1 singles in 23 years, since that first No. 1 “Fool Hearted Memory.” Strait has had more No. 1 hits than any country artist in history. He’s sold more than 62 million records, with 28 going platinum or multi-platinum and 19 hitting No. 1, four more than second-place Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard in country music.

That’s a lot of precious metal around these two. Add in Foreman native Lawrence and his four platinum-selling-or-better albums from 1991-96 and this concert would be a metallurgist’s field day.

Strait, the all-time leader in Country Music Association award nominations (73), also holds the record for the largest crowd ever to cram into Alltel Arena, beating the Hogs, Elton John and the Gaithers in the process, with his 17,800-fan turnout in February 2004.

His newest CD, “Somewhere Down in Texas,” was released the middle of last year. He also received the National Medal of the Arts from President Bush since his last visit here.

Lambert, who was influenced as a child growing up in a musical house led by her guitar-picking dad and listening to Guy Clark, Merle Haggard and Jerry Jeff Walker, said she didn’t dream of the type of year she had in 2005 when she was nominated for the CMA’s Horizon Award for top emerging artist, performed on the late-night talk show circuit and country music awards shows, toured with Keith Urban and debuted No. 1 with “Kerosene.”

“I’m so blessed,” she said. “All of my team has worked so hard this year to make it happen. I don’t set many goals for myself, so everything that’s happened has been amazing.”

What has amazed the hard-to-please Nashville critics about Lambert is her songwriting ability. Many cuties like her record songs provided by the usual songwriting suspects, and the PR firms get behind the record and try to create a star. Lambert brought her songs to Nashville, and the folks at Sony Records liked them enough to let her go without much help. Six of her songs made her record — including the title-cut country rocker “Kerosene” and the power ballad “There’s a Wall” — and she collaborated with other writers on each of the rest of the debut record, including “Me and Charlie Talking,” her first single.

She says she doesn’t know where her songwriting influences began. “When I was 17, I just started writing. It just comes naturally to me,” she said. “The second I started writing, I know it was what I wanted to do. I’m not opposed to cutting outside songs that aren’t mine, I just haven’t. I didn’t want to come to Nashville and make a record of someone else’s songs. That’s just not me. I’m very much a singer-songwriter.”

Lambert, who has been likened in voice to Dolly Parton, has been able to work in some studio time in between lots of appearances, enough to work on five songs that will be part of a new record coming out “maybe this fall, I’m not sure.”

Lambert, who formed her first band at age 17 in Lindale, Texas, about 80 miles east of Dallas, recalls playing in Arkansas before, but not in Little Rock. “I’ve played in every state except for Rhode Island, Hawaii and Alaska, and I’d love to play Hawaii real soon, to get on the beach, get in the water and get a tan.”

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