Brandy Clark’s follow up to 2013’s 12 Stories showcases impressive storytelling that infuses more rock and blues than her previous album, making it an especially spunky release. Big Day in a Small Town kicks off with the track “Soap Opera,” which lays the foundation for the rest of the album. It’s about the drama in the everyday and about the mixed-up lives of small town heroes and villains alike.
Songs like “Homecoming Queen” and “Broke” paint the picture of the tough realities facing many people in America but also shows ingenuity and a sense of humor. “Big Day in a Small Town” highlights the moments that may seem unremarkable to the outside viewer, but that define the lives of the people that live them. Clark is sympathetic to the dreams that were never realized, the necessity to make ends meet however you can and the desire to live a life that means something. Her characters are not played-out country tropes though, they are well-developed and dignified.
In “Three Kids No Husband” Clark perfectly encapsulates the drama and monotony of single motherhood:
“Somebody wants a lullaby, Somebody wants a different channel, Somebody’s dealin’ with their first heartbreak, And the dishes in the sink ain’t gonna wash themselves.”
The song tells the story of a woman who’s not necessarily discontent with her life, but knows that it’s not the way she meant for it to be. It ends on a redemptive note, with Clark declaring,
“So she’s a mom and a dad and a taxi driver, When the baby’s sick, she’s an up-all-nighter, A hand and a shoulder and a referee, A real life hero if you ask me.”
That’s the kind of real talk and dignity you get as a character in a Brandy Clark song. She’ll touch on the real struggles of life, but she’ll find a way to show that you’re a hero.
Unless, of course, you’ve crossed her.
In every soap opera there are flawed but admirable heroes, and there are villains. “Daughter” is a hate-letter to a man who’s broken the singer’s heart. Rather than lashing out in rage, she comes up with the most creative revenge—“Karma’s a bitch, so I hope you have a daughter.” It’s like an escalated version of parents telling their children, “I hope one day you have a kid who’s as crazy as you so you know what I put up with!” In this story, we’re willing to wait it out, because seeing his daughter drive off with boys wearing cheap cologne would be so much more satisfying than chewing him out now.
Overall, the album has a more rock vibe than 12 Stones. Songs like “Girl Next Door” feature a full band, effects, and distorted guitar. There are still plenty of contemplative songs on the album, however, like the final song, “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven,” written for Clark’s father who passed away in 2001. Big Day in a Small Town features the talent and creativity that we’ve come to expect from Clark’s songwriting, and kicks it up a notch musically, ensuring that this is an album that can’t be ignored.