Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
There are two components to Brandy Clark. First is her songwriting, which gained her much street cred, penning songs for the likes of Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart" with Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally), The Band Perry ("Better Dig Two"), Keith Urban, Reba McEntire and a slew for Musgraves and Jennifer Nettles. And then there's her own artistic career with her major label debut finally coming close to three years after her extremely well-received (with good reason) debut, "12 Stories."
Some aspects remain the same - the sharp songwriting, which focuses on the details of small town life and lives ("Homecoming Queen," "Broke," which has a sense of humor about down on your luck on the farm, and the title track), often from a female's perspective with the trials and tribulations of relationships and the perils of the bottle often providing the stumbling block.
And a few are different. While "12 Stories" veered heavily towards traditional country sounds ("Pray to Jesus," "Illegitimate Children," "Take a Little Pill"), Clark occasionally forges a more mainstream approach here. The single "Girl Next Door" is big sounding production wise with layered vocals and instrumentation that strays more towards pop than country. Banjo underpins "Love Can Go to Hell," but the song is big sounding, perhaps a bit too fine production-wise. Leaden drumming nearly does in the soulful "You Can Come Over" and tries to derail the title track, but the story and melody are too good.
Fortunately, she doesn't forget her roots on songs like the lead-off "Soap Opera" to "Drinkin' Smokin' Cheatin," which you could imagine Loretta Lynn singing, and "Daughter," a song Rosanne Cash could cover.
Clark's knowing vocals remain ever present and a force throughout. She sings with a healthy dose of timbre and feeling about the subjects she wrote about. And there are is a lot going on in Clark's world from "Three Kids No Husband," penned with Lori McKenna, about the troubles of a single mom, to the closing, acoustic-based "Since You've Gone to Heaven." The heartbreak of a song examines the loss of a father and the difficulties that result with superb word play like "Since you've gone to heaven/The whole world's gone to hell." The song is a tough listen, but indicates the sharpness of Clark's pen.
The excellent songwriting and vocals of Clark are thankfully intact. A bit more staying true to her traditional country side would have served her even better.