Song for song, Brandy Clark might be the finest young writer-artist working in music today.
She stated her case in two, triumphant, sold-out shows at City Winery over this past weekend. In performance after performance, she was greeted by rapturous applause. Her devoted followers often began clapping at the first instrumental notes of songs that they had obviously committed to memory.
Clark mixed material from her masterful 2013 collection 12 Stories with songs drawn from her current Big Day in a Small Town album. Listening to either dazzling collection can be a jaw-dropping experience as each song seems as perfectly crafted as the one before.
Her songwriting brilliance was matched by her breezy, immensely likeable stage personna. Clark’s wry comments in between tunes were easy-going, charming and pithy.
The Belmont graduate’s songs were breathtaking, whether she was breaking hearts with the ballad “Hold My Hand,” humorously threatening homicide in “Stripes,” describing the deadened emotions of “The Day She Got Divorced” or splitting from a drunk lover via the rhythmic “Hungover.” All of these can be found on 12 Stories.
She described a series of tunes that included that album’s “Get High” as “the substance-abuse portion of our show.” Clark also introduced a new song, “When I Get To Drinkin,’” which will be on her upcoming live album. A preview of it was released on Record Store Day.
“Someday, I want to do a whole album of drinking songs,” she commented. “No, I’m serious.”
The Big Day in a Small Town songs were equally potent. Clark is a strikingly empathetic writer, expertly sketching a portrait of a struggling mother in “Three Kids, No Husband.” She wryly described “Daughter” as “a revenge song,” since it wishes that her ex has an offspring who breaks his heart.
Even when being ironic, her deep humanity shines through her lyrics. “Broke” and “Love Can Go to Hell” were excellent examples of this. “Girl Next Door” used humor to tell her truth. Yet as we chuckled over her wit, she tossed in the profoundly moving, conflicted and aching “You Can Come Over.”
Her emotional-bullseye vocal delivery and excellent acoustic guitar playing were backed by a simple bass, keyboard and/or guitar accompaniment. Intriguingly, Clark’s set did not rely on any of the familiar hits she’s written for others, such as Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart,” The Band Perry’s “Better Dig Two” or Kacey Musgraves’ “Follow Your Arrow.”
One segment of her show featured Clark trading country oldies with her opening act, Charlie Worsham. She chose Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough to Take My Man.” He tried the Kenny Rogers classic “Sweet Music Man” and, oddly, the singularly unattractive Conway Twitty hit “Tight Fittin’ Jeans.”
Worsham’s opening-act set featured blazing solo guitar work, looped percussion tracks and sure-footed tenor singing. He largely emphasized the songs on his just-released sophomore collection The Beginning of Things. Like Clark, he left the audience applauding wildly.
On Friday evening, Brandy Clark bid us farewell with her vivid, blue-collar, hard-luck bopper “Pray to Jesus.” Then she returned to the venue to leave another another spellbound audience on its feet in ovation on Sunday.