What does it sound like?:
This record should come with a health warning along the lines “Contains tunes, choruses and hooks that will become embedded in your psyche, that will catch you unawares by springing to life at any time of day or night”.
Your Life Is A Record has been out for about six weeks now, but as it has become such a huge favourite in our house I felt I needed to share the love for it.
This is Brandy’s third studio album. Given that her first, 12 Stories came out in 2013, she’s not churning out material at any great rate. What that indicates, and that this collection of 11 songs amply demonstrates, is that she believes in quality not quantity. A thick seam of 24 carat gold permeates this record. One indicator for me of its excellence is that my wife will sing along with songs she especially likes (thankfully, unlike me, she has a good voice and can keep in tune) and I reckon I’ve heard her sing along to every song here.
Both 12 Stories and 2016’s Big Day In A Small Town presented songs that have similarities to Randy Newman (more of him later) in that they sketched aspects of ordinary American life. They are often stories presented with humour, laced with quirky insights, sometimes with pathos but never patronising nor with condescension.
Some more of that type of song are here, but the big change is that the majority are songs about relationships. Whether these are borne of experience or creations from her imagination I couldn’t say, though as Brandy has been a Music Row composer for a long time, and engages throughout in that Nashville tradition of co-writing, I suspect that they are inventions.
What it also demonstrates is that Brandy’s career is on an upward trajectory with Big Day… improving on the first and this album is a beautiful leap forward from that collection of songs.
The second song in, Long Walk, is one of small town sketches and contains the lyrical touches I’ve come to expect on a Brandy Clark album:
You’re a middle-aged mean girl
Always throwin’ stones…
…Well I’d give you grace but why even bother
‘Cause after all you can walk on water
Another of the sketches is also one of the most irresistible songs here, and it’s one titled Pawn Shop with it’s chorus which begins:
It ain’t stolen it ain’t hot
Someone told me it cost a lot
Man ain’t that the truth…
Three simple lines with such a depth of feeling and meaning. It’s tremendous and once heard it is unforgettable.
Bad Car is a paean to to what is a heap of junk, but in some ways is one of the most tender love songs contained here. It may be a car song, but it’s not Bruce Springsteen, that’s for sure.
However as I’ve already alluded, this album is loaded with songs about relationships and it’s hard to pick favourites from a record where pretty much every song is a highlight
There aren’t many albums that open with album’s title, but this is one, though the song is titled I’ll Be The Sad Song, predicated on the idea that life is soundtracked by the people and places we encounter and they are the songs.
It has the killer line:
Couldn’t be your happy song
But at least we had a song
Apologies is a favourite among a collection where it’s hard to pick favourites. It opens with a lovely orchestration of strings and flute. Brandy’s phrasing of the lyrics is superb and then the song employs the device of the pause. You think it’s over then it starts up again for a final chorus and brief coda.
Who Broke Whose Heart has a really bouncy vibe, with another killer chorus that ends with the memorable:
All I know is I loved you
So fuck the rest
Earlier I mentioned the parallels in Brandy’s songwriting to Randy Newman’s songs so it wasn’t entirely surprising that the first time I heard the opening bars to Bigger Boat I thought to myself that it sounded just like a Randy Newman song. Brandy sings the opening verse, then the second verse starts and what do we hear, but the dulcet tones of Mr Newman himself. It’s the Brandy and Randy Show! There is a light hearted feel to a song although it’s about a very strained relationship:
We’re on the Titanic
But we think it’s the Ark
And it is a lot of fun. Especially Randy’s echoing of Brandy’s lines later in the song (which can be heard via the link in Comments).
I could mention particular qualities for every song, but then I’d be going on interminably. I just think this is a fabulous collection of songs that should be heard by more than those of us who are fans of Americana/Country.
As with Big Day…, this album is produced by Jay Joyce (who has also produced among others Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin and John Hiatt), who I feel deserves a mention for the beautiful job he’s done here. There is such subtlety in the accompaniments, orchestration and arrangements. The notable thing is that the production is big in terms of the instrumentation, but understated and tasteful. One example is on the opening song with the usual guitars, drums and piano there are strings and wind, but the use of the wind instruments colour and punctuate the song creating highlights, not dominating in any way.
You need this album in your life.
What does it all *mean*?
I generally don’t agree with star rating systems for reviews, but if I was using a five star approval classification I’d award Your Life Is A Record six stars.
I think it’s my album of the year, and that is in the light of knowing Jason Isbell, Chuck Prophet among others have albums to come in the next few months.
Goes well with…
A cosy evening on the sofa with your loved one.
Already available from your preferred retailer
Might suit people who like…
great songs, packed with everything you want to hear in pop music and some things that you didn’t know you wanted.