Album Review: Brandy Clark — 12 Stories

Juli Thanki | July 16th, 2013

brandyclarkBrandy Clark’s new album arrived at my house in a plain brown wrapper, the kind of packaging stereotypically given to materials of a far seedier nature. However, based upon the contents found within that nondescript CD sleeve, the wrapping was entirely appropriate. Because 12 Stories is songwriting porn.

The record’s first single, “Stripes,” which was co-written with Matt Jenkins and Clark’s frequent collaborator, Shane McAnally (who’s credited with co-writing five of the album’s dozen songs), will, has all the components of a hit. Backed by deliciously twangy guitar and “whoa whoa whoas,” Clark weighs her options after coming home to find her man wearing only “a goofy little grin and a platinum blonde.” The only thing stopping “Stripes” from becoming a murder ballad is the song’s protagonist coming to the reasonable—and catchy–conclusion found in the chorus: “There’s no crime of passion worth a crime of fashion / The only thing saving your life / Is that I don’t look good in orange and I hate stripes.

Clark’s received well-deserved attention for the steely-eyed badassery found on “Stripes,” “Crazy Women,” which also appeared on LeAnn Rimes’ Lady & Gentlemen, and Better Dig Two” and “Mama’s Broken Heart,” hits for The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert, respectively, but her best moments come from the moments of vulnerability found on the album. “What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven,” co-written with Mark Stephen Jones, is a gem in the middle of an album full of them. Over piano that sounds as though it was lifted straight from ’90s country radio, she contemplates infidelity with a sweet sadness and nuanced perspective that you’d be hard-pressed to find on contemporary radio: “There’s so many shades of gray, but this is black and white / He’s some stranger’s husband, and I’m some stranger’s wife / 10 floors up he’s waiting with champagne and candlelight / What’ll keep me out of heaven will take me there tonight.

Stunning closer “Just Like Him” tackles the notion that women marry their fathers. Call it a countrified take on Freud’s repetition compulsion as the woman in the song, the child of an alcoholic who wandered in and out of his family’s life, ends up marrying a man “like the one Mama wasted her youth on,” who spends his nights “breaking hearts and dishes.” Just as the woman of “Just Like Him” comes to the conclusion that she “can’t do this anymore,” Clark’s acutely realized character in “Hungover” finds a hidden reserve of strength, realizing “the sun keeps coming up even if the curtains are closed,” a sense of hope that her acutely realized characters just can’t grasp on “Take a Little Pill,” “Pray to Jesus,” and even the slow-burning domestic boredom of “Get High.”

With this full-length record, Clark–one of the most talented songwriters on Music Row—proves she is as talented a performer as she is a writer. Let’s hope that, whether she’s holding a pen or a pick, she sticks around for a long time.

4.5 Stars

  1. Grace
    July 16, 2013 at 10:05 am

    So glad you put focus on Just Like Him and What’ll Keep Me Out… – those 2 were the absolute standouts for me on this, despite liking each and every song on this album to the standard at which I’d like the best songs on some other albums I’ve come across. Another stand-out was Pray To Jesus but that’s more because of the chug-a-long tune and clever wordplay that makes it a bit addictive. Can’t get over how strong a debut album this is – I’m no expert reviewer nor do I have a big a discography as it would take to say it outright – but I really was blown away by the strength of each song. I love your term “steely-eyed badassery” – couldn’t agree more. For me, I’d also add in that it’s the wit and tongue-in-cheek attitude that really keeps me listening over and over.

    Nice review!

  2. bob
    July 16, 2013 at 10:08 am

    Is there a release date? a track listing? I didn’t see anything on i-Tunes or amazon.

    Just noticed yesterday that Brandy co-wrote a song called “Hollywood” on my Maggie Rose “Cut to Impress” cd. Good song.

    • Juli Thanki
      July 16, 2013 at 10:10 am

      A couple weeks ago, Clark’s Twitter mentioned a July 4th date, but this morning, her rep mentioned that they’ll have a release date within the next couple weeks. Will keep you posted.

  3. Andy
    July 17, 2013 at 10:52 am

    Sending UK love to you Juli for this great intro review. She has 3 tracks on iTunes which it appear will all be included on this album. Love her writing and voice. I’ve downloaded the very beautiful “Pray To Jesus” (Suzy Bogguss meets Kacey Musgraves?). All her Soundcloud tracks sound terrific especially “What Will Keep Me Out Of Heaven”.
    Is “Stripes” an official single?
    Quite a catalog of great songs when you research.
    Always a great songwriter behind great songs – The best way to find the good stuff

  4. Baron Lane
    July 17, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    nice, thanks for the heads up!

  5. ben
    July 17, 2013 at 11:20 pm

    when does the album come out??

  6. Ben Foster
    July 19, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Perfect review, Juli. I finally got around to listening to this album, and I adore it. I hope it sees release soon. I’m particularly impressed by Clark’s knack for elevating her lyrics through fully realized melodies and expressive performances, which makes it a special treat to hear her own interpretations of her songs instead of only hearing other artists sing them.

  7. Leeann Ward
    July 19, 2013 at 11:43 am

    Ben’s commented seconded. I’ll add that while I’m not adverse to singer/songwriters with less than great voices, it’s always a special treat when a known and great songwriter also emerges with an equally good voice.

  8. Andy
    July 24, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Brandy Clark was the featured songwriter on BBC Radio Shropshire.
    Also helped things along with a Wiki page and referenced to this review!

    • Juli Thanki
      July 24, 2013 at 11:47 am

      Thanks for the heads up, Andy. It’s much appreciated.

  9. Leeann Ward
    July 24, 2013 at 11:56 am

    It’s just been announced that the album will be released on October 22.

  10. Jonathan Pappalardo
    July 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    That”s the best news of the day! I’m just getting into the CD now (better late to the party then never!) and it’s even better than people are saying. If that’s possible.

  11. Leeann Ward
    August 10, 2013 at 8:42 am

    It shouldn’t be overlooked that Vince Gill sings on “What Will Keep Me Out of Heaven.” I love this album more and more when I listen to it, as happened yesterday.

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