ToC Critic’s Pick: Brandy Clark, ‘Big Day in a Small Town’
Great albums include great songs, and Brandy Clark’s Big Day in a Small Town is fat with them. The singer’s songwriting relationship with Shane McAnnally is among country’s most delightful pairings. They’re simply working on another level.
Fans of "Girl Next Door," Clark’s 12 Stories album and, well, this singer in general, expect a certain sassy charm and tracks like “Daughter” deliver. “Yeah, karma’s a bitch, so I hope you have a daughter,” she sings during a standout track on Big Day in a Small Town.
The title track (a fusion of Miranda Lambert’s “Famous in a Small Town” and several Kacey Musgraves songs), “Soap Opera” and “Homecoming Queen” dig deep into the small-town malaise that Clark could nearly trademark. It's the thread that unifies this collection of songs and ideas. Her strong storytelling finds her characters quietly screaming in desperation for a ticket out of town. Like Musgraves, Clark loves her tiny hometown, but she paints pictures so starkly vivid you have to ask.
“She’s got three kids, no husband / So she’s a mom and a dad and a taxi driver / When the baby’s sick she’s an up-all-nighter / A hand, and a shoulder and a referee / A real life hero if you ask me / ’Cause those kids ain’t gonna raise themselves,” she sings during “Three Kids No Husband,” a song packed with so much brutal honesty you'll consider skipping ahead as not to ruin a perfectly good day. It’s also one of the best songs of 2016 — a sure award winner should radio catch on.
“You Can Come Over” is Clark’s finest vocal delivery on this album, although the personal and quasi-biographical "Since You've Gone to Heaven" comes close. Forest Whitehead helps her with this simple song of keeping bad love away like a stray dog. Producer Jay Joyce’s best influence is found here, but the entire album features simple arrangements that let Clark’s voice, lyrics and storytelling do the heavy lifting. Each song’s credits include but a few essential names, and no creatures that are distinctively 21st century inventions.
Key Tracks: "Girl Next Door," "You Can Come Over," "Three Kids No Husband," "Daughter"
Did You Know?: "Since You've Gone to Heaven" addresses Clark's father's death. Many of the details are accurate, but she admits she exaggerates and fabricates. For example, her brother isn't "in and out of jail."
Find Big Day in a Small Town on the Best Albums of 2016 List