Album Review: Brandy Clark’s ‘Big Day In A Small Town’

I have to be honest with you. When I heard that Jay Joyce was going to produce the sophomore album from Brandy Clark, I was a little bit concerned. Yes, I am a huge fan of his work with Little Big Town, but Brandy’s debut album 12 Stories was one of those once-every-so-often type albums. My first inclination was to think that she was going for the commercial airplay touch, and who can fault her for that? Still, I felt like a member of the science club who got to be friends with the homecoming queen – only to have her find out that, in fact, she did prefer the jocks!

That being said, my first thoughts were WAY off base. Joyce – as any great producer does – simply let Clark be who she is. The style might be a slight (emphasis on slight) less organic than 12 Stories, but if you loved the first album, you’re going to equally be in appreciation of what you hear on this disc.

Big Day In A Small Town kicks off with “Soap Opera,” which might throw the listener off a little with such a lush opening, but once the lyrics begin – you’ll be hooked. Clark doesn’t miss a beat from start to finish. The track is as witty and as well-written as anything else out there. She continues that lovable gift of small-town spunk on “Girl Next Door,” which is snappy, fun…and maybe, just a little bit dead center between the eyes. I love the ironic line about the thing that one loves about someone is the thing that you might be complaining about.

The disc continues on with “Broke,” which will touch a chord with many – who have ever rolled their own smokes, or drank a can of Sam’s Choice cola. Again, it’s hilarious, but laced with a lot of truth. That can also be said of “Daughter.” When I first heard the song, I had to pause for a second. Did she really just say that? Though this won’t be a radio single (unless the editors do a masterful job!), it’s going to be the song that causes the biggest ripple at Clark’s live shows. It’s one of those compositions that make you scratch your head and go ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ It’s “Sen-Fricken-Sational” – a word I just made up. (I could have written it like I originally described it, but children and Debbie Pickard – my second mom and language barometer – might be reading this!) I also love the nice tip of the hat to the 60’s “Nashville Sound” that Joyce gives to the track. Again – and pointing the finger at myself – there is more than a little bit of non-fiction to these lyrics, though mine are more in thought than in deed!

Courtesy Essential Broadcast Media

Courtesy Essential Broadcast Media

There’s also quite a bit of emotional depth and heart-wrenching on Big Day In A Small Town, as well. “Homecoming Queen” is a slice of major reflection that proves that popularity – at the high school level or other-wise, doesn’t last forever. “Since You’ve Gone To Heaven” is an emotional tip of the hat to a father who has since passed on – unaware of the ashes that lie behind his death. “3 Kids, No Husband” takes a look at the life of a single mother – but one that offers just a little bit of hope before the end of the song. Perhaps the singer is at her most vulnerable on “You Can Come Over,” where she offers an invitation to a former lover – but only to a point. She is walking the tight rope of whether she wants to let the past back into her life – fully aware of what can, and will, likely end up happening.

There’s a starkness to the biting ache of “Love Can Go To Hell.” To say the song is a bitter performance would be an understatement. You can hear the anger and frustration in her voice. To be honest, it’s an emotion that we all have felt at one point or another. “Drinkin,’ Smokin,’ Cheatin,’ is an effective tip of the hat to the sounds of a bygone era where the singer sums up all the things she’d like to be doing in place of fretting over her significant other.

Clark has described this album as a “concept album,” of sorts. If that is so, the title cut equates the goal of the project as good as any. The song takes a look at all the things that can make news in a small town, whether it be Morton, Washington (Clark’s hometown) or Centerville, Tennessee (where I sit as I am writing this.) It’s all true. Only the names change to protect the innocent…or the guilty!

Well, in my fifteen years of doing reviews, I have only broken the 800-word barrier once. That must mean I really like this album, right? Yes, I do. I wish I could sum it up in a deep and introspective way as some of my peers with names like Gleason, Oermann, or Roland could do. I’m not even going to try. I will simply say Brandy Clark is a bad ass. That says it all. Maybe I should have just said that in the first place!