As a singer/songwriter, Brandy Clark racked up several significant hits in the early years of the 2010s -- Miranda Lambert brought "Mama's Broken Heart" to number two in 2013, the Band Perry had a number one single with "Better Dig Two" -- which was the background to her acclaimed 2013 solo debut, 12 Stories. Taken together, the hits and the debut album presented Clark as a formidable contemporary country talent, one rooted in classic country but with a keen eye for the present, telling modern stories that are placed within a timeless tradition. A native of Morton, Washington, Clark began playing guitar at the age of nine, dabbling with songwriting along the way. During high school, she concentrated on athletics, winning a basketball scholarship to Central Washington University, but she wound up abandoning sports and returned home, where she attended community college. More importantly, she also returned to music, starting to play guitar and sing in local bands. In 1998, she moved to Nashville, where she attended the music business program at Belmont University while continuing to concentrate on songwriting. After graduating from Belmont, Clark found work at Leadership Music and continued to perform and write, often with her songwriting partner, Shane McAnally. She started to land songs on records in 2009, with the breakthrough coming the following year when Reba McEntire recorded "Cry" and "The Day She Got Divorced" for All the Women I Am. In 2011, she had several songs recorded by a variety of artists, most prominently Ashton Shepherd ("Tryin' to Go to Church"), LeAnn Rimes ("Crazy Women"), and Miranda Lambert, whose "Mama's Broken Heart" became a number two hit in 2013. By the time "Mama's Broken Heart" climbed the charts, Clark had begun making a name for herself as a performer. She opened for Sheryl Crow in 2012 and made her Grand Ole Opry debut in December of that year, the same month she independently released a three-track EP. The eponymous EP became a word-of-mouth hit among critical circles, building an appetite for the fall 2013 release of the full-length 12 Stories. Produced by Dave Brainard and preceded by the single "Stripes," 12 Stories appeared to positive reviews in October of 2013. 12 Stories didn't tear up the charts -- it peaked at 23 on Billboard's Country chart, never generating a hit single -- but it did secure Clark a contract with Warner. As she worked on her major-label debut, she continued to write -- she placed songs on 2014 albums by Miranda Lambert, Toby Keith, and Reba McEntire, along with Kacey Musgraves' 2015 album, Pageant Material -- and in the summer of 2016 she released Big Day in a Small Town, her Warner debut produced by Jay Joyce. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Country - Released November 5, 2014 | Warner Records
Prior to the 2013 release of 12 Stories, Brandy Clark was known primarily as a songwriter, and a good one too. She had hits with Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart"), LeAnn Rimes ("Crazy Women"), the Band Perry ("Better Dig Two"), and Kacey Musgraves ("Follow Your Arrow"), and 12 Stories reflects some of the same skills that brought her to the upper reaches of the charts. In her songs, Clark is tuneful and defiant, happily celebrating the virtues of weed and rebellion, but Clark never comes across as a redneck. She's on the outside but she's an observer, not an outcast, noticing the quirks and eccentricities of her brethren instead of diving head-on into their madness. Perhaps some songwriters would permit themselves a certain measure of distance if they wrote in this fashion, never letting their hands get dirty, but Clark is empathetic in her heart, seeing the humanity in the divorcees, women dealing with hungover lovers, whoever needs to take a little pill just to get through the day. As a singer, she avoids full-throated showstoppers for something better: she's sly and strong, mining heartbreak and sneaking in punch lines at unexpected times. Her songs are constructed in a similar fashion, slowly gaining power as they unfold, sometimes seeming simple but revealing complexities upon a close listen. Similarly, 12 Stories doesn't hit hard musically: it creeps and insinuates, its hooks slowly, deeply settling in. No one song is a knockout but the cumulative effect is overpowering: as the album reaches its conclusion, the strength and clarity of Clark's voice becomes undeniable and, looking back, it's possible to hear her identity clearly within those hits she penned for superstars. Perhaps she's too subtle to be a stadium-filling superstar, but the superb 12 Stories showcases a unique artist who stands firmly, proudly on her own merits. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Country - Released June 10, 2016 | Warner Bros.
Brandy Clark's 2013 debut 12 Stories was very much a songwriter's record: clean, simple, and spare, its arrangements never distracting from the writing. Big Day in a Small Town, released three years later as Clark's first major-label album, is its opposite: a collection of 11 songs buffed and polished with the intention of bringing her music to the widest possible audience. The tight drum loops of "Girl Next Door," the album's first single, signals the biggest aesthetic shift from the front porch picking of 12 Stories, but Clark hasn't abandoned her flair for intimate character sketches or storytelling. "Homecoming Queen" and "Three Kids No Husband" could've easily fit on the debut, but Jay Joyce -- the producer who helmed Eric Church's muscular modern-day outlaw Mr. Misunderstood, and also the Brothers Osborne's Pawn Shop, an album much closer in sound to Big Day in a Small Town than Church's -- gives them subtly textured arrangements, then surrounds these miniatures with bolder sounds. "Broke" plays with modern R&B rhythms that counter its white trash jokes, "Soap Opera" plays its gospel overtones as pop, and the riotous dis of "Daughter" is the only time Clark serves a straight-down-the-middle country song. Big Day in a Small Town slides from sound to sound with ease because Clark's anchor remains her finely rendered intimacy, a skill put into sharp relief by the heartbreak of the album closers "Drinkin' Smokin' Cheatin'" and "Since You've Gone to Heaven." The brighter, funnier songs and the nicely etched smooth ballads "Love Can Go to Hell" and "You Can Come Over" serve as gateways to this Clark signature, and if Big Day in a Small Town occasionally feels like nothing more than a collection of great songs that don't quite gel into a larger picture, that's a minor complaint: songs rarely come much better than these. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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