BRANDY CLARK – YOUR LIFE IS A RECORD
Given that we just observed International Women’s Day this past weekend, I figured I would feature one of the many albums made by women that were just released. I landed on this new record from country singer and songwriter Brandy Clark. Normally, I wouldn’t give a release like this too much attention, but then I learned that she co-wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” with Kacey Musgraves and has songwriting credits on a few of Musgraves’ releases. If you know me, you know this is more than enough to get my attention, and I will say that I’m glad I decided to dig a little deeper into this one.
Since Brandy Clark is known as a songwriter, let’s start off by looking at the songwriting. And perhaps what impressed me most about this album is that there really isn’t a single lyrical dud on it. Modern country music can often reek of cliches and tropes, and while the female artists tend to fall prey to them less often than the men, they do have their own. Clark manages to practically avoid all of them. Even when songs get dangerously close like on “Long Walk” and “Bigger Boat,” both songs manage to end with their dignity intact.
The songs are really at their best when they’re telling relatable stories about real people. Take “Pawn Shop” with its recent divorcee and failed musician going into the titular store and selling things that ended up costing more than they bargained for. Or “Bad Car” with its narrator sad to see an old car go away despite how unreliable it was because of the memories it holds. About half of the tracks are about love and heartbreak with the final three tracks forming a kind of trilogy of various stages of the aftermath of a falling out. But even these topics are covered in a way that never induces eye roll or cringe.
Musically, the album is a little less exciting for me. I personally tend to prefer the more folksy, vintage, or rock-tinged sounds of outlaw country, but this album falls on the more tolerable side of big pop country productions. Much like the nearly-cliche lyrics, the instrumentals sometimes knock on the door of being over produced, but never quite cross that line. Sometimes the string arrangements can feel like a bit much, but what’s really surprising is the inclusion of horns, flute, and organ in a few tracks. These instruments in particular give the tracks hints of ’70s soul, which is pleasantly surprising.
One real outlier instrumentally is “Bigger Boat,” which features Randy Newman. It’s lilting rhythm and almost honky-tonk flavor feels like Newman could have written it himself, and it pulls off the difficult feat of being silly without being corny. It doesn’t feel out of place among the rest of the songs on the record. Unfortunately, except for maybe one or two exceptions, there’s no instrumental here that really stands out as unique or particularly captivating. There’s nothing here that will really stand out from the crowd musically on country radio. But again, this is a songwriter’s album, not a bro country release looking to land a huge hit. The content is what’s important.
Overall, I ended up enjoying Your Life Is a Record more than I expected when I gave it the time it deserved. In some ways it plays like a songwriter’s resume or portfolio. I could hear just about any country artist singing many of these songs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a few showed up on some future release from one of Nashville’s superstars. There’s even songs on here that I wouldn’t be ashamed to be caught singing myself. The touches of soul music are nice, but I do wish the instrumentals were a bit more memorable. Even so, there’s no denying that this album has some of the realest songwriting that you’ll hear this side of mainstream country music.