BIG DAY IN A SMALL TOWN (WARNER)
BRANDY CLARK - NOT THE GIRL NEXT DOOR
“When you took me home/ you knew who you were taking/ not some Debbie debutante standing in an apron/ frying up your bacon/ my house and my mouth and my mind get kinda trashy/ I've never been to jail, but hell, I wouldn't put it past me so if you want the girl next door/ some Virgin Mary metaphor/ your cardboard cut-out on the wall/ your paper or your Barbie doll with perfect hair and a perfect dress/ I'm really just the perfect mess/ and I ain't nothing less or nothing more.” - Girl Next Door - Brandy Clark-Jessie Jo Dillon-Shane McAnally.
Prolific singer-songwriter Brandy Clark has surpassed chart topping clients with 11 dynamic originals on her stunning third album Big Day In A Small Town.
The dual Grammy nominee reaches back to her Washington State logging town roots to source vibrant vignettes that peel back the veil on the vices and virtues of small town trivia.
Clark, now 38, delivers her musical magic with an organic accessibility mastered by acclaimed producer Jay Joyce.
Entrée Soap Opera is a clever collage of domestic drama delivered from the front row view of a stand-up satirist - a tonsorial troubadour soaking up scandalous sagas between shampoos, rinses, perms and pedicures in a small town salon.
Yes, aptly named Brandy also takes listeners into the world of another upright societal sponge - the ear-bashed barman whose clients bare their souls until their glasses are drained of fears and dramas.
Clark and co-writer Bryan Sampson use these two credible characters as her conduit to spotlight daily dramas with lyrical references to the tabloid TV mirror reflected in the “young and restless” and “sands through the hour glass, days of our lives.”
I suspect this was written long before Donald Trump ran for President, the Brits choked on their Brexit biscuit and the Hanson, Abbott and Shorten puppeteers cranked up their fear and loathing for the unknown.
But Clark is no political pariah - just a vibrant vehicle to drive her messages into a musical melange that resonated way beyond her geographical ancestry.
Soap Opera segues into the equally universal social comment of Girl Next Door, accompanied by a vibrant video in Series #30 of Nu Country TV.
Viewers may recall Clark name-checked Marcia Brady to prove she was no clichéd girl next door or Virgin Mary metaphor.
Instead, the feisty fraulein was a free spirit, very much like Clark who has written hits for artists diverse as Texans Miranda Lambert and Kacey Musgraves, Gretchen Wilson, Ashton Shepherd, Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban and Darius Rucker.
The song was inspired by a phone call Clark had with Jessie Dillon about a man she was dating.
And when they wrote the song with Shane McAnally, they decided to write a song that represented the anti-girl next door.
It prompted the hook, “If you want the girl next door, then go next door.”
Clark also explained the Virgin Mary metaphor.
“This goes against that Virgin Mary metaphor,” Clark recalled.
“Growing up, I felt pressure to be a good girl.”
Clark also expanded on the Barbie Doll references.
“We're all pretty imperfect, so I think that all of us at some point feel that pressure,” Clark added.
“For a guy, their guy next door would maybe be Tim Tebow. Or Ken doll.”
And the lyric - “sorry I ain't sorry that I ain't your Marcia Brady.”
Clark says Brady is the ultimate girl, always in control.
“Who wouldn't want to be Marcia?” Clark added.
“All girls wish they were that, starting with Jan Brady. Everything's easy for her. The football player wants to date her, all the girls want to be her friend. But that character doesn't exist, she's a made up character in a TV show.
“Maureen McCormick (who played Brady from 1969-1974) tweeted me that she's no Marcia Brady either. That's funny. Even Marcia Brady ain't Marcia Brady.”
SO BROKE – WISHING GRANNY WOULD CROAK
“We're broke, we're busted, our Chevy truck is rusted/ we're high and dry, ain't enough apples for the apple pie/ if we had a penny we sure couldn't spare it/ sitting on the porch drinking generic Coke/ we're broke/ the jars all need pickles, the greens all need collard/ been ribbing these nickels but ain't got no dollars/ we dig our own ditches, we roll our own smokes/ and we're secretly wishing that grandma would croak.” - Broke - Brandy Clark-Shane McAnally-Josh Osborne.
Aussie bush blokes and belles and their long suffering families have cloaked their misery with dry humour as drought, floods, corporate bankers, politicians and dairy, wool and grain goliaths dance on their graves.
Well, Clark serves up another tonic in Broke as her victims reel from crisis to crisis when their crops, produce and livestock are decimated so severely the home-grown smokers exhibit a secret wish for family grand matriarchs to ease their financial owes by going to God.
Well, that may have been a salve for rural folks in the U.S.
But here, until the late seventies, farming families suffered even more decimation from draconian death duties when matriarchs and patriarchs passed on.
Not to worry - Clark's character's misery is eased when the fleas and crickets move into town and leave the farm folk to grow their own.
The singer is well accustomed to pathos.
Her song I Cried - a haunting homage to a widow left behind by an Octogenarian, also bereaved by children, grandchildren and great grandchildren - featured on the Dave Cobb Southern Family album.
Don't get the impression Clark has neglected romance.
She skates on diverse edges of broken hearts in the sensual You Can Come Over and vitriolic hurting song Love Can Got to Hell that precede her return to Cowboy Peyton Place in the title track .
WATERS BREAK IN GEOMETRY CLASS
“Mama got a call from the Principal's office/ ‘better get down here fast/ cause Mandy passed out when her water broke in the middle of geometry class'/ her mama didn't know she was nine months late/ been getting on her about gaining weight/ and now she's a grandma.” - Big Day In A Small Town - Brandy Clark-Shane McAnally-Mark D Sanders.
Hell, that's a universal theme with maybe the exception of the illegal deer shooter - substitute cow, ewe or roo down under.
It segues into Three Kids, No Husband , perhaps a sibling sequel of sorts of John Prine's Unwed Fathers.
Clark wrote it with Lori McKenna who included it on her eighth album Numbered Doors in 2014.
The tale is universal - the single mother reaches her 40 hour working week by Tuesday as she awaits child support that never arrives and last month's rent that is already two weeks late.
The victim, a waitress by circumstances - not choice - endures her customers' tales of woe and demand as she seeks solace in a cigarette in the loading dock.
Clark and McKenna mined the song title from a YouTube video Clark created to introduce Pray to Jesus from her 2013 album 12 Stories .
“I was talking about the woman who inspired that song, and I said that she had five kids and no husband,” Clark explained.
“There's always a line that somebody else in the room says that really pulls me in. It's usually a line that I wouldn't say because it's not in my vernacular, but it's in theirs.”
But it doesn't end there.
Daughter is another revenge requiem where the character resists the temptation to cut her former lover's brake-lines on his four wheel drive and poison his “ Pabst blue ribbon .”
A similar poison to that served with relish by Oklahoma oriole Carrie Underwood with Tennessee Whiskey in Church Bells or the late Dennis Linde penned Dixie Chicks anthem Goodbye Earl , replete with poison in the black eyed peas.
No, Clark's jilted belle has a more subtle solution.
She watched from a safe distance as she waits for her protagonist to sire sultry daughters who dispense grief by attracting a vast array of nocturnal Romeos knocking on the family front door.
“Yeah, karma's a bitch/ so I hope you have a daughter/ you son of a bitch/ I hope you have a daughter.”
HEAVEN'S JUST A SIN AWAY
“Since you've gone to Heaven I don't like coming home/ but I can't stand the thought of mom in that big house alone/ she can't keep it up, she really ought to sell/ Oh that house without you in it is nothing but a shell/ since you've gone to Heaven, the whole world's gone to hell.” - Since You've Gone To Heaven - Brandy Clark-Shane McAnally.
Clark includes a dream sequence of sorts in Drinkin, Smokin, Cheatin where her chosen vice is the herb superb.
Her penchant for freedom of choice - sexual and recreational - earned her the 2014 CMA Awards Song of the Year for Texan Kacey Musgraves hit Follow Your Arrow.
Kacey returns the favour with her backing vocals on Daughter.
Brandy was also nominated for new artist of the year but lost to Kentucky Coal-Miner's son Chris Stapleton for his solo album Traveller.
So it's fitting Stapleton's singing spouse Morgane, co-writers Shane McAnally and Josh Osborne and producer Joyce, are backing singers here.
Clark credits producer Joyce with helping her stretch creatively.
“He helped me go to some places that maybe I was a little scared to go,” says Brandy.
“He doesn't have an ego in the studio, and so it's just about being service to the artist and the songs. I think for me, I don't know what my next record will be.”
Clark's fitting finale Since You've Gone To Heaven resonates with paternal passion despite not being entirely autobiographical.
“My dad passed away right before 9/11,” revealed Clark whose father - a logger - died in a work related incident.
“And when 9/11 happened, the whole world and our country were just crazy. And I thought, ‘since Dad died, the world has just gone to hell.”
“I went home for his memorial service and they had to have it in a gym because that many people came to it. I said, ‘That's a small town.' Who gets that other than a celebrity? When you're from a small town, a lot of times the thing that brings you back is a wedding or a funeral.
“For myself, when my dad died, there were almost 500 people at his memorial service, and I think that's a really special thing in a small town. The only other people that get that in the world are famous people unless you're from a small town. But when something like that happens, the people in a small town really rally for the family. That made me love my hometown forever.”
Clark expanded the struggle of mending a broken family following the loss of loved ones.
She shared the idea with her friend and frequent hit collaborator McAnally.
They had driven to Tunica - the Mississippi town made famous in the Tony Joe White song Tunica Café - to gamble.
On their return trip they talked about how they would write it and completed it the next week.
Clark exploited gossip and drama of a small town where the brother is in jail and the saw mill closes but the family rises again.
Brandy also reached back another generation for other song sources.
She recalled when her grandfather chased her grandmother with a knife as she was getting stung by bees trapped in her bee suit.
Granny was trying to catch a swarm at a local business unaware it had been sprayed with something that attracted the bees.
Her grandfather didn't tie the veil protecting grandmother's face correctly and the bees got inside.
“She went to undo it and he had tied it in a knot,” Clark recalled.
“She always said she wished somebody would have filmed this - she was running and she turned around and my grandpa was chasing her but he couldn't catch her. He had a knife to get hold of the veil and cut it off. She was disoriented because of the bees and scared of him. But he's the gentlest person. Finally he got her on the ground and cut it off. I remember seeing her in hospital and being scared because her face and lips were humungous.”
You can't beat ancestral history for the best song sources.