Brandy Clark – 12 Stories

If the album is due to share the fate of the Passenger Pigeon , no one let Brandy Clark know. Her fabulous collection of musical short stories might well be the best release of a pretty good year.

brandy clark 12 stories

 

Brandy Clark has written some of Nashville’s most engaging and thoughtful songs for artists like Miranda Lambert (“Mama’s Broken Heart”) and Kacey Musgraves (“Follow Your Arrow”) but apparently she has saved her best for this finely crafted collection of 12 Stories. Clark writes with a matter-of-fact directness about the everyday realities of life, creating a dozen 3 1/2 minute short stories that speak of regular lives, youth gone to seed, love turned to boredom, and people seeking relief from pills, drink and maybe even playing the lotto.

When Clark points out the resignation of the hollowed-out middle class in “Pray to Jesus”, she does so with a bracing honesty absent of the bitterness we’ve become to expect from the blowhards on cable TV…

“We live in trailers and apartments too
From California to Kalamazoo
Grow up get married and when that one ends
We hate sleeping alone so we get married again

Don’t wanna be buried in debt or in sin
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto
Cause there ain’t but two ways
We can change tomorrow
And there ain’t no genie
And there ain’t no bottle
So we pray to Jesus and we play the lotto”

The first single, Stripes, shows why she has become one of the go-to hit writers in Nashville; a toe-tapping and twangy revenge fantasy where the betrayed singer resists the temptation to commit murder because of her aversion to having to wear orange or prison stripes. No doubt she can turn a phrase with the best of them. As a songwriter, Clark deftly paints understated portraits of women struggling with a decision to begin an affair (What’ll Keep Me Out of Heaven) or repeating the mistakes of their mothers (Just Like Him). This is not the “real America” of Fox News, but it’s probably much closer to what much of the heartland struggles with and dreams about every day.  The best example of Clark’s craftsmanship is Hold My Hand. Within  the first minute she has laid bare the insecurity of feeling that your’s might be a rebound relationship and the ache of hoping for reassurance that it isn’t.

She walked up and said, “Hello, it’s been a while”
Don’t think I didn’t notice the nervous in your smile
Wasn’t that long ago you were a whole lot more than friends
This would be a real good time to hold my hand

Don’t let this moment linger
Now would be the time
To reach out with your fingers
And get ’em tangled up with mine
Let her know for sure
That I’m more than just a soft place to land
This’d be a real good time to hold my hand

She joins some of country and contemporary folk music’s best storytellers (think of the great Patty Griffin or perhaps Nanci Griffith in her prime) with this masterpiece.

The startling honesty in Clark’s songwriting distinguishes her from much of what we’ve come to expect out of Music Row. From typical country-song struggles like love and infidelity to more untouchable topics like smoking weed and popping pills, she’s not afraid to go there. But that’s not what makes her such a remarkable artist. She’s a warm, wry and personal performer. Her voice is as clear and colorful as a glass prism. And she has a knack for enlivening country music with what has been lacking for nearly a generation: a reverence for real life, not just the parties and pickups. —Kim Ruehl, Folk Alley