Album Review: Brandy Clark — 12 Stories
Brandy 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.
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