Cutting her teeth on Music Row’s songwriting circuit, Washington native Brandy Clark’s wry wit has filtered through some of country music’s biggest hits over the past few years. Brandy co-wrote Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” and The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” in addition to Kacey Musgraves’ current single “Follow Your Arrow.” Now, on her debut album 12 Stories, which is available now, Brandy delivers a stunning tour-de-force worthy of mention alongside the very best albums of the year.
There are probably two primary ways a listener might approach 12 Stories. First, there’s the, “I haven’t heard of this indie label artist, let’s see what it’s all about,” method. Halfway through the Waylon Jennings-meets-Kacey Musgraves opener, “Pray To Jesus,” where only prayer and picking the right lotto numbers can provide escape from suffocating small town life, this listener will probably be stunned first, and then totally wrapped up in the lyrical detail and haunting melodies. The second approach would probably be for those who are already familiar with Brandy’s writing credits. And one listen to the maniacal “Crazy Women,” where a woman’s revenge leads to the brilliant line, they hauled her off in high heels and handcuffs, will be enough to substantiate that yes, this songwriter’s touch for illustrative depth and thinly-veiled restraint is downright spellbinding.
Brandy wrote or co-wrote every song on 12 Stories, and working with producer Dave Brainard (Jerrod Niemann), crafts a traditional-based album focused on everyday, true-to-life realism. The woman in the fragile ballad “Hold My Hand” is pensive and nervous when her love’s ex approaches. “What’ll Keep Me Out Of Heaven” examines the decisive moment when choosing to pursue the affair or not, following the title with the hard-hitting line, will take me there tonight. Brandy emphasizes the motives behind her character’s actions and why they do the things they do. In the Western rockabilly “Stripes,” a character straight out of the aforementioned “Crazy Women” chooses not to avenge the situation, singing, The only thing saving your life is that I don’t look good in orange and I hate stripes, when finding her man with another woman. And on “Get High,” a bored housewife passes the days by rolling her own.
Like Jamey Johnson’s great 2008 album That Lonesome Song, but from a woman’s perspective, 12 Stories takes no prisoners and tells it like it is. Tackling topics of addiction, “Take A Little Pill” drifts easily with faraway psychedelic tones and a slow up/down melody. Hands down one of the best songs of the year, “Hungover” offers a wrenching, bittersweet portrait of one life wasted and another one moving on. Got a little bit stronger, got a little bit older, all while you were hungover, Brandy sings as the song builds and her character gains the strength to leave an alcoholic partner.
Traditional in approach and featuring honesty so strong it might leave some listeners speechless, Brandy Clark delivers one of the year’s best country albums. 12 Stories is certainly not for the faint of heart, but its blunt honesty leaves a lasting impact while establishing Brandy as one of Nashville’s top emerging talents.
Key Tracks – “Hungover,” “Stripes,” “Pray To Jesus,” “Crazy Women”