Miranda Lambert, Elizabeth Cook, Gretchen Wilson, and Avril Lavigne

Ladies Night

Phases & Stages

Miranda Lambert

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Sony/BMG Nashville)

Elizabeth Cook

Balls (31 Tigers)

Gretchen Wilson

One of the Boys (Sony/BMG Nashville)

Avril Lavigne

The Best Damn Thing (RCA)

Times may be tough in rock & roll, but country gals are rollin' in clover … and packing heat. Don't cross East Texan Miranda Lambert, or she'll pump you full of "Gunpowder & Lead," the 23-year-old's response to the domestic dustup of sophomore LP Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's airbrushed opener. Turning Gillian Welch and David Rawlings' "Dry Town" into a breezy boozehound anthem might log her more CMT time than that Coyote Ugly show, but Lambert's country credentials are secured by her and Travis Howard's "Guilty in Here": "Is it guilty in here, or is it just me?" If that's too Cheaters for you, try a spring fling with lingerie-clad Elizabeth Cook. Producer Rodney Crowell makes her honeyed vocals every bit as curvaceous as her figure, but the gender-flipping words of "Sometimes It Takes Balls to Be a Woman" and a heavenly cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning" are equally fetching. Cook and Lambert probably both owe Gretchen Wilson a shot of whiskey, and the original "Redneck Woman" sounds like she could use one on surprisingly pensive third album One of the Boys. For kicks, Wilson recounts her barmaid past on "You Don't Have to Go Home" and glad-hands Big & Rich/Beverly Hillbillies hybrid "There Goes the Neighborhood," but overall, Wilson would rather spill tears in her beer than knock back the Jack. Luckily, Canadian Cassandra Avril Lavigne has no such reservations on her junior effort, The Best Damn Thing. Her homespun homilies ("I don't like your girlfriend/I think you need a new one") ain't Emily Dickinson, but Lavigne's punk-lite cheerleader chic could well be tweens' first tantalizing steps down the primrose path to Patti Smith. Or, all right, Pink, but The Best Damn Thing is still more fun than an afternoon shopping with your BFF.

(Lambert, Cook) ***.5

(Wilson, Lavigne) ***

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