Night Music: Brandy Clark, “Stripes”

I was talking to Steve about country music in Arizona. We’re both fans (he plays in a country band) and agreed that the country music radio we’ve listened to lately was horrible. I came home and quickly discovered Brandy Clark. I have no idea if she gets any country radio play, but she writes clean and sharp country songs with classic country music themes, without cliche or hokum or manufactured pathos.

I have a reservation. She tells stories about workers and their families, and while I’m assuming that’s where she’s from, what I hear makes me less than certain that these are her stories. Her song about believing in Jesus and the Lotto, for instance, seems not a little condescending and alien, like Obama talking about people clinging to their guns and religion out of despair. I may understand the point, intellectually, but I’m pretty sure the subject of the songs wouldn’t recognize themselves.

That may be a problem, or maybe she’s taking on the shibboleths of the genre. It’s too soon for me to tell, but it’s something to keep an eye on.

And catchy melodies and concise lyrics wash away many sins. I like the tunes of her songs, and the sharp turns of phrase (these are “her songs” in the pop sense, always with writing partners and collaborators), and most of all the arrangements, which can be elaborate as in this clip, but are still direct and honest and accessible.

Her album reminds me of the first two Steve Earle albums, and early Roseanne Cash. Good stuff if you like country music that maybe doesn’t land on country radio.

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