Even before her breakout 2013 album 12 Stories, Brandy Clark was considered one of Nashville's best songwriters. The Washington state-native co-wrote Kacey Musgraves' "Follow Your Arrow" and Miranda Lambert's "Mama's Broken Heart," along with songs recorded by Reba McEntire, Sheryl Crow, Keith Urban and more. With Your Life is a Record (out on March 6), Clark delivers another collection of stunning, openhearted songs -- this time with a new sound.
Produced by Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Ashley McBryde), Your Life is a Record blends acoustic performances with Memphis Strings & Horns arrangements by Lester Snell, a producer and arranger known for his work with Isaac Hayes and others.
Clark says Joyce asked her to listen to two soulful, string-laden albums: Shelby Lynn's I am Shelby Lynn and Dusty Springfield's Dusty in Memphis.
"[Joyce] had worked on the I Am Shelby Lynn record and he said 'You know, I think you're vocally closer to those artists than you think you are and I think with this grouping of songs that would work really well,'" Clark tells Wide Open Country.
After hearing Snell's string and horn additions to three of the album's songs, Clark knew they'd found the sound for the record.
"We were so blown away, we went to the label and got the budget to do the whole album," she says.
The album showcases Clark's trademark humor and heart. "Bigger Boat," a duet with Randy Newman, is a razor sharp election year anthem. "Bad Car," featuring guitarist John Osborne of Brothers Osborne, captures a moment in time as only Clark can.
Clark says the idea for "Bad Car" was brought in by her co-writer and inspired by an episode of Parenthood.
"He played me the scene and the woman is crying as they're towing her car away and talking about the things that happened in it," Clark says. "I think whether it's a bad car or a bad apartment, it's really about the life you lived inside of those things. I was really drawn to that. I feel that way about cars I've had. I joke that, until recently, I had never had a car that was worth more than my guitar. But you think about the road trips that you've taken and the tears that the car saw that no one else saw. So much of our lives are lived inside a car."
The songs on Your Life is a Record, like everything Clark writes, feel lived-in and rooted in truth. From the mom smoking weed in her kitchen in "Get High" (12 Stories) to the "Homecoming Queen" on Big Day in a Small Town, the characters in Brandy Clark songs are people you could meet at the grocery store or gossip about at the beauty shop. But they're never one-dimensional.
Clark says she was first inspired by the songs she heard on the radio in the early '90s, when women reigned on the airwaves and songs written by prolific singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters were not only played -- they were hits.
"She wrote so many of the songs that made me want to write songs -- songs like 'You Don't Even Know Who I Am" by Patty Loveless, "Let That Pony Run," "Independence Day." Clark says. "I listen to those songs and I think 'Wow, that's how you tell a story...When I was really falling in love with Patty Loveless and Pam Tillis and Trisha Yearwood and Suzy Boguss, I found Gretchen through them."
The six-time Grammy nominee is frequently mentioned among the ever-growing list of artists who should be embraced by mainstream country radio. (Her highest charting single from her second album Big Day in a Small Town, "Girl Next Door," peaked at 39 on the US Country Airplay chart.) But Clark has never wavered when it comes to the type of artist she wants to be.
"I love the bedrock that country music is built on. I know it. I don't know it as well as someone like Marty Stuart or Dwight Yoakam knows it, but I know it very well. I try to stay true to that. Some people would call that roots or Americana or whatever -- I call it great music and that's what I want to be associated with," Clark says. 'I also can't be anything but who I am and since that's what I grew up on -- like me loving songwriters like Gretchen Peters or Mary Chapin Carpenter -- that's where I learned how to write songs and how to sing, so I can't veer very far away from that."
With the release of her third album, Clark still feels the same excitement she felt when she was on the cusp of releasing her first solo project.
"My heart is as wide open on this record as it was on my first record, because it's a different record," Clark says. "It's being played on Americana stations -- I've never had that. Triple A stations are playing it. So it's a different path and I don't know what to expect and that's always a nice thing. You take everything that happens and celebrate the little victories."
Brandy Clark will kick off her headlining Who You Thought I Was Tour with a special album release show at Nashville's 3rd & Lindsley on March 29.