Album Review – Brandy Clark’s “Your Life is a Record”

When we look back at this current era in country music, Brandy Clark will be regarded as playing a pivotal role. No, they won’t find a formidable list of smash singles and platinum records on her resume, or touring purses that put her near the top of country performers. She has helped pen a few pretty big hits such as The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” and Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart.” But this is more about the behind-the-scenes impact and influence she’s had that will be held in such high regard.

Brandy Clark is the modern day mother of the sassy and subversive female country song. Disillusionment with Southern social mores and tearing down the facade of suburbia is what she has spun into fun and interesting tales in country music for over a decade now, working directly with Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, and others in that capacity, while fielding her own records highly regarded by critics, even if they fly under the radar of the commercial market. And she does it all while staying mostly within the norms of the country music craft.

Brandy Clark also deserves credit for helping to integrate country for LGBT writers and performers. Though the starstruck media loves to parade the name of Kacey Musgraves as country music’s “gay icon,” and last summer fellow Washington State-born Brandi Carlile was hyperextending her right elbow patting herself on the back for the first gay country song (and the media was letting her get away with it), Brandy Clark has just quietly been doing her thing as a country songwriter and performer, and doing much more to soften conservative concern for LGBT members intermingling in the country scene than screaming at people about it on Twitter. “Follow Your Arrow” may have been performed by Kacey Musgraves, but Brandy Clark and Shane McAnally co-write it, and inspired the message.

Your Life is a Record is a little bit of a different approach for Brandy. Where usually her songs follow more of a proven methodology in the use of double entendres and witty turns of phrase and perspective to render themselves enjoyable—and emerge from songwriting sessions with other professionals—this record strikes a more personal chord. There are still those Brandy Clark-style songs with attitude, like “Long Walk” about finding a short pier, or the observational humor of “Bigger Boat” featuring Randy Newman—who you can tell through this collaboration has inferred a lot of Brandy Clark’s approach to the craft.

But what makes the major impression on Your Life is a Record are songs like “Who You Thought I Was,” “Apologies,” “Can We Be Strangers,” and “The Past Is The Past.” In these compositions, Brandy Clark does something she’s mostly avoided in her career heretofore, which is using the inspiration of her own mistakes and failed relationship as fodder for song material as opposed to knocking down nosy neighbors and white picket fences.

But it’s fair to question if this approach is really better for Brandy. Though these songs come across as very personal, some don’t really resonate like some of Clark’s more classic compositions do. They may resonate with Brandy, but sometimes they make a connection with the audience, and sometimes they may not. The music of Your Life is a Record also fails to make any sort of major expression or impact. You hate to bring it up, but this record isn’t really that country. There’s horns and strings in places which is fine, but there’s not really any sort of cohesive approach to the music like the surprisingly country sound of her last record, Big Day in a Small Town.

But you also still get some of those great Brandy Clark-style songs, even if they feel more like the product of a professional methodology to songwriting as opposed to being penned from inspiration. “Pawn Shop” is palpably difficult to shield yourself from the emotion of, even if it’s idea has been done before. Down to the reference to Charlotte Ave., which on of the principle streets in Nashville, it’s these details that make Brandy Clark songs cut. “Bad Car” once again is an old song trope, but one Brandy Clark puts a fresh coat of paint on like only she can.

The album’s first single “Who You Thought I Was” is where the personal nature of the story, Brandy’s knack for songwriting, and a country sensibility to the music all combine. The fingerpicked melody behind the narrative about how we often change for love, sometimes for the better, sometimes for worse, may result in the record’s best track.

There was a moment after Brandy Clark released her debut album 12 Stories, and was later snatched up by Warner Bros. that we thought she might be one of the next big things in country music. That never really materialized as this all occurred right as the reign of Bro-Country was commencing. But time has a way of sifting the wheat from the chaff, and when that happens, the contributions and influence of Brandy Clark will find their proper place. Multiple tracks from Your Life is a Record will support that assessment.

1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)

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