Album Review: Big Day in a Small Town by Brandy Clark
Exceptionally Good, Based on 4 Critics
AllMusic - 90 Based on rating 9/10
Brandy Clark's 2013 debut 12 Stories was very much a songwriter's record: clean, simple, and spare, its arrangements never distracting from the writing. Big Day in a Small Town, released three years later as Clark's first major-label album, is its opposite: a collection of 11 songs buffed and polished with the intention of bringing her music to the widest possible audience. The tight drum loops of "Girl Next Door," the album's first single, signals the biggest aesthetic shift from the front porch picking of 12 Stories, but Clark hasn't abandoned her flair for intimate character sketches or storytelling.
Brandy Clark's 2013 debut, 12 Stories, heralded a Nashville songwriting renaissance, alongside pathfinders like Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church. Its sequel, and proper major label debut, ups the ante: It's music tooled alternately for stadiums and songwriting circles, commercial and public radio, line-dance bars and coffee shops. Clark's a badass who likes raw guitar – see "Broke" (rhymes with "generic Coke"), a low-rent Southern rocker, and "Girl Next Door" (rhymes with "Virgin Mary metaphor), a synth-chromed kiss-off pledging "I ain't your Marcia Brady" that, like Church's "Springsteen," doesn't aim its referents solely at the Snapchat set.
A writer singing her own songs isn’t necessarily a singer. Brandy Clark made this point clear on 2013’s 12 Stories; the title’s J.D. Salinger allusion was the tip-off. Neat to the point of stainless, Clark’s debut sported the virtues of realist short fiction, filigree by filigree. Making ….
For those who were attracted to Brandy Clark’s left-field debut, “12 Stories,” precisely because it presented an alternative in sound and substance to the standard mainstream country fare that surrounded it, hearing the first single from “Big Day in a Small Town,” her major-label follow-up album, must’ve created some doubts. “Girl Next Door” has all the trappings of an unabashed bid for radio notice, with the cluttered, driving pop sound so in vogue in today’s Nashville and a lyric that comes across as a smug, self-satisfied put-down, devoid of subtlety and context — which, in a way, makes it perfect for country radio. In both respects it’s a striking departure from the sensibilities of “12 Stories.