Published Jun 10, 2016Already among the hottest songwriters in Nashville, Brandy Clark dropped her debut record 12 Stories in 2013 to nearly universal acclaim. A tremendous collection of wise, carefully considered and exquisitely crafted tales of average people facing mundane struggles, 12 Stories spoke to critics and fans alike who'd burned out on the party anthems that dominated the charts. To them, Clark felt like a grown-up in a room full of 30-something adolescents. Those artists understood getting drunk, stoned and laid; she understood the hangover, the pregnancy test, the aching regret, the ways pleasure and pain are entangled and inseparable.
Thankfully, on her major label sophomore album, under the eye of big-name producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town) and collaborating with a litany of Nashville's best writers (including the ubiquitous Shane McAnally), Clark has lost nothing of that steely-eyed insight. While the songs are somewhat shinier than they were on her stripped-bare debut record, Clark's razor-sharp lyrics remain very much the focus. Keeping her attention on the quotidian activities that constitute a "big day in a small town," she limns a working class culture that feels as lived in as your favourite sweater.
No songwriter working today understands the politics of the kitchen table better than Brandy Clark. Opening with the statement of purpose "Soap Opera" ("Ain't we all the stars?") and flowing through the salty kiss-off of "Girl Next Door" ("I'm really just the perfect mess") followed by the pitch-perfect "Homecoming Queen" ("That sequinned dress wouldn't fit her now like it did before the kids"), Clark may have offered the best one-two-three combination of any country record this year.
On the extraordinary "Three Kids No Husband," Clark sings: "So she's a Mom and a Dad and a taxi driver, and when the baby's sick she's an up-all-nighter, a hand, a shoulder and a referee. A real-life hero if you ask me, 'cause those kids ain't gonna raise themselves." If you can find a better verse in a country (or any) song this year, send it my way. (Warner)