Big Day In A Small Town
by Steve Wagner
If you were lucky enough to discover 12 Stories,
Brandy Clark’s 2014 debut, you likely wondered why the hell she wasn’t a star, with stunning songs like “Pray to Jesus” and “Stripes” in heavy rotation on country radio. (Songwriter’s Square host Bill Berry hipped me to it.)The songs on 12 Stories
are proverbial three-minute movies but not just some direct-to-DVD flicks; each one is like an Oscar winner for Best Picture. 12 Stories
is so lyrically vivid, character-rich and breathtakingly well-constructed that if it were a person, I’d buy him/her a sandwich (at least).If you’re not familiar, Clark actually is
a star in the songwriting world, having co-written big country hits like “Mama’s Broken Heart” for mega-star Miranda Lambert and “Better Dig Two” for The Band Perry. Her Wikipedia page says that her songs are about “the seedy underbelly” of country people but that’s an oversimplification. While she does lean on country stereotypes at times, she and her co-writers are truly artists, rendering their characters and stories from the inside, with empathy and insight, rather than merely hacking for a punch line.The result is three-dimensional portraits that even people who “don’t like country music” will be able to feel: the hopeless housewife who smokes dope to cope in “Get High” or the lonely barfly wresting with memories in “In Some Corner.” She skewers prescription drug abuse in “Take Another Pill” and explains where “Illegitimate Children” come from in the song of the same name.
If 12 Stories doesn’t kill you, buddy…you might already be dead. The good news is that her follow-up, Big Day in a Small Town, will kill you all over again.
Where 12 Stories was written and performed largely in the style of classic country (which might explain why none of its singles charted), several of Big Day’s songs are updated with a tasteful modern country feel that supports rather than detracts from the songs.
It has plenty of the aforementioned “seedy underbelly”-type of songs that have been her Music Row calling card but the stand-out tunes—“You Can Come Over,” “Love Can Go to Hell,” and Since You’ve Gone to Heaven”—are slow or mid-tempo love songs.
I don’t want to spoil your experience of Big Day in a Small Town, so I am not going to quote any of its lyrics but I will say that lyrically, when Clark’s other boot drops, you’re going to respond—with a smile, a “wow,” or a tear. She is so effin’ good, someone should name a bridge after her.
If you like country music, Big Day in a Small Town might be one of the best collections you hear this year.