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. Clark is good at bending country boilerplate: On "Drinkin', Smokin', Cheatin'," she teetotals while listing a downward spiral of coping fantasies. She also spikes the comic with the grim; in the cheerfully deadpan "Big Day in a Small Town," a high schooler passes out in class when her water breaks, and a dude drunkenly flips his pickup en route to his son's football game. Clark's tear-jerkers are no joke either. "Since You've Gone to Heaven" is about the death of a father and the subsequent fallout. It offers no cheap palliatives; just the consolation of a beautiful voice delivering a well-built song, cold truth rising from it like fog off dry ice.