Brandy Clark is one of this year's truly great storytellers. She dares to go against the grain and keep the country in country music. On "12 Stories" (out Oct. 22), she paints a template of coarse snaphots of real life, presenting 12 different but equally interesting woman. Each song is a composite of heartache, strewn acrossing an earthy-folk quilt pieced together through the ebb and flow of the guitar and Brandy's striking vocals. The stories play out like a "complete works" collection, standing alone they have a remarkably heartbreaking affectation. When you begin setting the stories in sequence, you have an exquisite sampling of some of the best music you'll ever hear.
Brandy, who has made a name for herself by co-writing two of the year's biggest hits (The Band Perry's "Better Dig Two" and Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart"), is a monstrous force to be reckoned with. As one of Nashville's finest assets, she also has cuts with Leann Rimes ("Crazy Women") and Reba McEntire ("The Day She Got Divorced"), both which you'll find here. Throughout the record, she tells a tale of 12 strangely flawed woman who are all possess one connected trait: a twisted (yet authentic) sense of humor. Whether it is the album's furiously witty lead single "Stripes," a soulful midtempo about choosing fashion over passion, or the equally plucky "Get High," about a woman needing to light one up to escape her boring life, there is an endless supply of charm and swampy narratives. What keeps this record grounded is that all the stories come from a place of honesty. Brandy tells Billboard, "when you're writing a song, you're writing a part for someone to play."
Well, the singer-songwriter manages to relate these 12 distinct stories with ease — transitioning from the strong, vengeful woman ("Stripes") to the delicate, rather agonized female in "Just Like Him." She's haunted by the memory of her abandoning father (in the latter track), which tragically informs her approach to relationships later in life. The pain drips from her smooth voice, relaying to the listener not to make the same mistakes.
We've all experienced unmistakable sorrow at some point in our lives. "12 Stories" speaks directly to this state of being, burrowing deep within the grainy trenches of life. It's not the syrupy sweet times that define us. It's the moments when we are left for dead in the ditch, praying for someone to save us, that inform us. "I'm really drawn to things that are going on in other people's lives. Some of my characters are composites – with a couple of people in there," she notes. This is what makes the record so appealing. It's relatable; it's about tangible things, emotions, times and places.
Other highlights: "Hold My Hand," "Hungover," "Pray to Jesus"
Overall Grade: A
Photo Courtesy of Slate Creek Records