Brandy Clark: Brandy Clark review – country provocateur holds too much back on faltering fourth album

For years, Brandy Clark has been one of country music’s most reliable provocateurs. She writes witty songs about characters with endearing quirks: the woman who would kill her cheating partner if not for the fact that she knows the prison jumpsuit wouldn’t suit her; the wild child who issues the simple ultimatum: “If you want the girl next door / Then go next door.”

Clark’s self-titled fourth album, produced by US singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, is supposedly her rawest since her 2013 debut 12 Stories. That may be true – there are gorgeous songs here about Clark’s Pacific north-west home and her family – but it often feels as if she has mistaken seriousness for honesty. Aside from a few lovely ballads, such as the sparse Buried and plaintive maybe-breakup song Come Back to Me, most of these songs feel anonymous. A line like this, from 2020’s Pawn Shop – “Someone told me it cost a lot / Man, ain’t that the truth” – feels far more revealing than “There’s a blue sky / Up above the clouds” on this album’s Cecilia’s Song.

When the lyricism falters, Carlile’s production often picks up the slack: Tell Her You Don’t Love Her, built around fingerpicked guitar and muffled drums, offers an inventive counterpoint to Clark’s rich vocal melody; Take Mine, on which Clark sings over Mellotron, walks a similar line between intimacy and gravitas.

The song that really sticks is the opener, Ain’t Enough Rocks, on which Clark writes vividly about a girl who conspires to kill her abusive father. Clark tosses off the song’s chorus like a grizzled onlooker: “There ain’t enough rocks to drown that pain.” It’s a tantalising glimpse of the Clark that lies underneath.