Tag Archives: Brandy Clark

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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Sound ‘Round: The Blind Boys of Alabama / Brandy Clark

Some pray more than others. 

The Blind Boys of Alabama – I’ll Find A Way (Song Masterworks)

blind boys of alabama - i'll find a way Their decades-long career began in the era of Dust Bowls and the New Deal when they were mere boys at the Alabama Institute for the Blind in Talladega. Age having called four of the original six members to their heavenly home, Jimmy Carter and Clarence Fountain remain earthbound and determined to sing His praises until fate intervenes. Though fragile in timbre and frail in vocal resolve, special guests from the indie-sphere appear on half the tracks to assist the elderly – Merrill Garbus’ reggae rendition of “I’ve Been Searching” is one I’m particularly fond of. Not every contributor, however, justifies their turn at the pulpit. Justin Vernon’s moodiness on “Every Grain of Sand” sounds like purgatory and dull folkie Sam Amidon is better off reciting Hail Maries than inspiring believers. The best moments are gospel as soul, gospel as blues, gospel as funk, gospel as a pulse so infectious it makes sinners move. “You know what? It sounds pretty good,” they say in the finale. “I’m beginning to feel all right.” Who says they can’t indulge their humanistic tendencies?  GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: “I’ve Been Searching” / “God Put A Rainbow In the Cloud” / “Jubilee”

Brandy Clark – 12 Stories (Slate Creek Records)

Brandy Clark - 12 StoriesFor a songwriter who has spent nearly a decade penning hits for Music City sluggers like Miranda Lambert, Reba and The Band Perry, this debut is surprisingly Anti-Nashville and refreshingly pro-Country. The approach is similar to Kacey Musgraves’ – a spot-on single cushioned by a bevy of sharp supporting tunes concerned with small towns, complicated love and weed. While Musgraves is prone to recite clichés as inspirational verse, Clark sticks to concise stories brimming with realism, humor, charm and emotional sincerity. Playing the lottery isn’t a vice but the only hope of escaping redneck dystopia.  A hungover husband’s laziness isn’t a burden, but motivation for female independence. The instant keeper and Song of the Year candidate, however,  is “Stripes,” wherein a scorned Clark ditches her womanizing man but spares his life because prison garb isn’t fashionable. Don’t mistake her mercy for weakness. “Hard time (won’t) be that hard on me,” she sings. Luke Bryan would be scared shitless. GRADE: A-

Key Tracks: Stripes” / “Pray To Jesus” / “Hungover