2013 has been simply heaven for fans who love real country music by great female singer-songwriters. Brandy Clark joins a long list of women making waves with her debut album 12 Stories. Brandy was already known a top-shelf songwriter, but now she can be regarded for her own singing career as well. 12 Stories is top to bottom one of the best country albums of the year.
12 Stories lives up to its name. Each track is it's own careful constructed narrative, playing on the joys and pains (mostly pains) of life in all shapes and sizes. The opening track, "Pray To Jesus", puts you in mind of Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go Round", but with a little more bubbly energy and optimism. It gets at the same theme of being thrust into the same life your parents lived, but finding happiness in that world. From there, the album winds and weaves its way through many gripping stories and events. "Take A Little Pill" deals with the medication generation, who have a pill for every ache and every hurt. It's a dark and poignant song that tells the story of the afflicted, but never judges or takes a side. On the same note, "Illegitimate Children" watches people go from the barroom to the bedroom, letting their passion override their inhibition. Once again, Brandy never makes a stake for this being right or wrong, just acknowledges it exists and allows us to make our own conclusions. On "What'll Keep Me Out of Heaven", however, she does take a stand, proclaiming the woman in the song knows what she is doing is wrong as she cheats on her husband with a married man, but she just can't help herself. Songs like this are what make 12 Stories so great. We might not have been in that exact situation before, but we all know someone who has. That's what these songs are all about. Real life.
Three songs really popped to me as a cut above the rest. "Hungover" tells the tale of all the things a woman gets done in the morning while her man lies in bed hungover. It builds up and keeps your attention throughout the whole song, and the mid-tempo melody is very strong and catchy. "Just Like Him" is the album's closer, and compares a woman's husband to her father. After dealing with a drunk, abusive father, she finds herself a man who is just like him. It's a sad and depressing tale, but we all know someone who has put themselves in that spot.
The best song on this album, to me, is "Stripes". This song is a clever play on words dealing with a woman about to shoot her cheating man. She refrains from pulling the trigger because she doesn't want to go to jail on the basis that she "hates stripes, and orange ain't my color". It is hilarious, but doesn't get old after multiple listens. Its hard to write a clever and funny song that doesn't wear you out after a while, but this song nails it. It is full of attitude and spunk. It also has some straight up country instrumentation. The whole album, in fact, is nothing but solid country gold. Steel guitars and fiddles are all over the place. The songs are lyric based, but the music fits right in line with the words, not overpowering, and not under-performing. Its a perfect medium and simply a treat to listen to.
The album has a few bumps. They aren't necessarily bad songs, but a matter of personal taste. I'm not crazy about "Crazy Women". I knew what the hook was going to be the moment it started, and while it isn't bad or poorly written, it is a little predictable and worn. Miranda Lambert has a monopoly on the crazy woman angle right now, and I'm a little burnt out on the theme. And speaking of overdone, there's also a bit of an overstock of marijuana songs in country music right now, so "Get High" just didn't do anything for me. Now, I've talked to people who find those to be two of their favorites of the album. This isn't a matter of a universally bad song, it's just a matter of personal taste. Luckily, Brandy has a little something for every taste on this album.
12 Stories quickly has become a strong contender for the 2013 Keep It Country Kids Album of The Year. Country music has been injected with a shot in the arm by its women in 2013. It sounds cliche and its been said over and over, but one cannot overlook the impact these ladies have had on country music this year. Brandy Clark joins an elite class of artists making great music this year. 12 Stories is a must have, go pick it up and be prepared to laugh, cry, and think.
Standout Tracks: "Stripes", "Hungover", "Just Like Him", "Take A Little Pill", "Illegitimate Children"
"Take A Little Pill" (with Marty Stuart)