Sound ‘Round: Brandy Clark / Buddy Miller

Words and music, emphasizing the former

Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town (Warner Bros.)

Brandy Clark - Big Day in a Small TownAn ace songwriter who helped Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves and The Band Perry maintain their mega-country dreams, Clark’s solo work has struggled to crossover and breach the small confines of the showcase circuit. Though lauded by critics, her open lesbianism doesn’t do her any favors with a Nashville radio landscape afraid of the big-bad gays. She doesn’t help herself, however, with a sound so folkie and plain it gets swallowed and discarded by a scene obsessed with bombast and beer. No wonder this followup to her 2013 debut ups the production to cozy to Music City — fortifying familiar tropes about speed trap towns with bigger, twangier guitars and a rhythm section so steadfast it allows for just three well placed ballads. Despite the refurbished soundscape, lyricism will always be her calling card. The funny-if-exaggerated opener sends up little town melodrama, and the title track treats the quirks of rural America with dignity. If the anti-vanity of  “Homecoming Queen” seems condescending, know Clark was one herself, and know the seeming religious overtones of the finale don’t appease the Bible Belt, but instead weeps for small towns devastated by the capitalism they profess to love. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “Big Day in a Small Town” / “Broke” / “Girl Next Door”

Buddy Miller – Cayamo Sessions at Sea (New West)

Buddy Miller - Cayamo Sessoins at SeaYou’ve probably heard Buddy Miller (or his influence) even if you didn’t know it. A good Midwestern son who knows the hustle never ends, he’s a singer / songwriter / instrumentalist / producer who has sang with Cash, sat behind the soundboard with Willie and recorded for the Dixie Chicks, Robert Plant and Elvis Costello, among others. This covers album was pieced together during a two-year period in which several seafaring trips doubled as recording sessions with icons and drinking buddies alike. There are the obvious selections — including Kris Kristofferson crawling his way through “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” a song he penned in 1969 and let the Man in Black take to No. 1. But there are surprises to be had, too. Who knew Richard Thompson and his thick London accent could so easily replicate Hank Williams’ “Wedding Bells,” wherein a crestfallen lover sees the woman of his dreams tie the knot with another man. Nearly every performance comes with conviction (Hello, Doug Seegers), charm (I see you, Elizabeth Cook) or both (Good on you, Lee Ann Womack). The lone pitfall arrives with Lucinda Williams, whose music grows more burdensome with every wheezing breath. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “If Teardrops Were Pennies” / “After the Fire is Gone” / “Wedding Bells”


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