Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Brandy Clark

  • 12 Stories [Slate Creek, 2013] A-
  • Big Day in a Small Town [Warner Bros., 2016] A-
  • Your Life Is a Record [Warner, 2020] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

12 Stories [Slate Creek, 2013]
Clark writes better than any other un-bro--better than Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Ashley Monroe, Angaleena Presley. Every winning tune opens up or clicks shut with a few unexpected words--"There's so many shades of gray but this is black and white," "This'd be a real good time to hold my hand," "Crazy women are made by crazy men," "Thanks for the Mary Jane." And there's an added attraction--near as I can tell from NYC, the feminism is a notch more ideological than the un-bro norm without ever going over the Nashville line. Nevertheless, there's a neatness to the execution that I suspect compromises her credibility and have no doubt compromises her gut attraction. I recommend her album to anyone who's intrigued. I know I'll enjoy it again myself. But I can't tell you exactly when that will be. A-

Big Day in a Small Town [Warner Bros., 2016]
As with fellow Class of '13 likely-to-succeeds Ashley Monroe and Kacey Musgraves, Clark's follow-up makes nicer with Nashville than would seem advisable. But where the younger women toned down their themes, Clark bigged up her production, abandoning the folkie decorum of showcase circuit. The opening "Soap Opera" sets the tone: a slightly overstated, unfailingly precise dramatization of Everyperson's appetite for self-dramatization. Soon I was loving the way "Girl Next Door" (she ain't) juxtaposed with "Homecoming Queen" (she was). The way "Broke" rhymed "joke," "folks," "Coke," "croak," "yolks," and "smokes" (although not "toke"). And at the very end, the way "Since You've Gone to Heaven" sentimentalizes her father the better to bemoan the decay of the small town she's never too pious to make fun of. A-

Your Life Is a Record [Warner, 2020]
Assuming you prefer your popular music with bite or at least cred, you've probably figured out that unhappy love songs come more naturally than happy ones. But few work so many changes on the warmth and regret that infuse saner breakups as this connoisseur of the Nashville hook: "I'll be your sad song/Your what we almost had song," "I'm sorry I'm not who I was when I met you," "All I know is I loved you/So fuck the rest." That doesn't mean she's never mean, as she proves from "Long Walk" to "Bad Car" (though even that one is bittersweet). But when she wants to expand on "the rich get richer, the rest get a little more broke," what instrument better than the irreducibly sardonic drawl of Randy Newman to underline the difference between the Titanic and Noah's ark. A-