Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.
Songwriter Brandy Clark moved to Nashville from Washington more than 15 years ago, penning songs recorded by The Band Perry (Better Dig Two
), Miranda Lambert (Mama's Broken Heart
), Kacey Musgraves (Follow Your Arrow
) and Sheryl Crow (Homecoming Queen
). On her debut, Clark weaves her crystal voice around her sparse, emotional lyrics, creating a colorful quilt of stories that cover the lives of people trying to deal with loneliness, lost love, loss and cope with the vagaries daily life.
Every song displays Clark's characteristic humor as well as her abilities to see the ironies of various situations. Channeling the Janie Fricke of "Singer of Songs," Clark has written the perfect cheating song in What Will Keep Me Out of Heaven. Opening with a few simple piano chords, the song swells to include an aching steel guitar as the singer contemplates whether or not to get on the elevator to met her lover who's waiting "ten floors up with champagne and candlelight." She captures knowingly the ecstasy and regret of cheating: "There's so many shades of gray/but this is black and white/...what'll keep me out of heaven will take me there tonight."
Hold My Hand, another piano heavy ballad, peers into the moment when a woman recognizes that her lover is not yet over his ex; she lets him know that "this'd be a real good time to hold my hand" if he's going to show her, even more than his ex, that you're over her now.
Stripes reverses the usual revenge-on-a-cheating-man song; the singer can shoot the boyfriend she's found with another woman in their bed - " I got a pistol and I got a bullet and an pissed off finger just itchin to pull it" - but she doesn't look good in prison togs, so she doesn't shoot: "There's no crime of passion worth the crime of fashion/the only thing savin' your life is that I don't look good in orange and I hate stripes."
With the combination of Clark's canny storytelling, her soaring voice, and the flawless music on each song, this is arguably the best country album of the year.