Brandy Clark | Your Life is a Record | (Warner Records)
4.5 out of 5
Brandy Clark’s catalog fuses deep desperation of the human condition with intense examinations of small town claustrophobia. Over a decade, her songwriting has leaned classic storyteller, her gaze simply filtered through tattered shoes of someone else. With her third studio set, Your Life is a Record, she employs similar blueprints to open up her world 一 swapping in her own pain and other emotional releases as an unstoppable steam locomotive.
Her musical sphere expands beyond conventional folky fabrics, too, and newly-constructed boundaries permit more license to dive into the nitty gritty of personal erosion. Clark’s knack for specificity evokes the exact sorrow she endured when a 15-year relationship met an unfortunate burning out. She uncurls the anger, the hurt, the loneliness as barbs on barbed wire.
“I’ll be the sad song / Your ‘good love gone bad’ song / The part of your heart that’s bittersweet,” she chokes up on the opener. She measures out her pain with “I’ll Be the Sad Song” as a smokey, tear-jerk tuner to set the scene. She weeps a bit more, “Couldn’t be your happy song / But at least we had a song / So I’ll be the sad song you sing.”
She not only fixates on the gloom, but she settles her eye on love’s all-consuming nature. “The desperate desire, the higher it goes / And once it sparks that devil’s dance in your heart and soul / You know it can’t be contained, no, it won’t be tamed,” she coos with “Love is a Fire.” She accepts that that’s just how it goes when you’re in love, and in her case, an unexpected heartbreak is a small piece of a much larger picture.
Clark also acknowledges her own faults that contributed to the end, particularly on “Apologies.” She confronts the truth out of the gate: “I’m sorry I’m not who I was when I met you / For the record, I never meant to let you down.” “Who You Thought I Was” sprouts from a similar emotional groundwork, as she sifts through the rubble and discovers a self she never anticipated. “Now I wanna be the me I should’ve been when we were together / I wanna be at least almost close to worth your love.”
Later, she tosses out any and all blame on “Who Broke Whose Heart,” calling into question both lovers’ role in the matter. “Who really cares ’bout the reasons why / We said goodbye, is anybody’s guess / All I know is I loved you / So fuck the rest.”
Producer Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Ashley McBryde) returns, after helming 2016’s Big Day in a Small Town, and tugs Clark, along with musicians Giles Reaves and Jedd Hughes, all four making up the album’s acoustic base, into more textured territory. Musician Lester Snell (Al Green, Isaac Hayes) arranges a complex backdrop, courtesy of Memphis Strings & Horns, that elevates the stories and gives Clark even more agency.
Your Life is a Record reads as intensely personal, but Clark doesn’t discard story-songs altogether. She melds narrative setpieces like “Pawn Shop” and “Bad Car” with front-row pain, allowing the listener to engage with the tremendous complexities of a relationship gone awry. A collaboration with Randy Newman (“Bigger Boat”) is an unexpected delight, and with closer “The Past is the Past,” she finally accepts what was, tucking away all the “used to be’s” for what is.
Even as her world expands, and her style shifts along with it, Brandy Clark keeps her feet grounded in the here and now. Her songwriting is only getting better.