I have to start by confessing I know next to nothing about country music. I am a country dunce whose knowledge stretches only a little further than Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and Hank Williams.
Over the last two years however I have begun slowly exploring the genre through compilations like ‘Country Soul Sisters’, which features tracks by Tammy Wynette, Kitty Wells, Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton.
The lyrical intelligence and sensitivity of these tracks is something we don’t hear much in modern music.
Perhaps more surprising is the feminist stance than many of these women stars took on some of their songs. There is a fierce independence and strength at the heart of Parton’s ‘Don’t let it trouble your mind ‘ or Jennie Riley’s ‘Harper Valley PTA’. These women are going to lie down for any man or any body.
Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories takes it cues from these country stars of old and updates it for the 21st century.
Her songs deal with the working poor, who see prayer and the lotto as their only two ways out of their trailer park life and women who would be happy to kill their no good, cheating husbands but for the fact they’ don’t look good in stripes’.
The wit on tracks such as ‘Hungover’, where a woman talks of all the things she gets done while her deadbeat husband recovers from his heavy drinking can be contrasted with the poignant ‘Just like him’, in which a young woman realizes she has married a man just like her father
Daddy had the bluest eyes
Kept my Mama hypnotized
Now I finally realize the reason
They say love’s like coming home
And I came from a broken one
Whether it’s women getting through their desperate lives by smoking a joint or crippled vets managing by taking ‘a little pill’, this is a picture of modern America that rings true.
It also is a triumph of well-crafted songwriting where lyrics aren’t mixed back but are placed front and center and proves that you don’t have to have words in the form of a rap to be culturally relevant.