Prior to the 2013 release of 12 Stories, Brandy Clark was known primarily as a songwriter, and a good one too. She had hits with Miranda Lambert ("Mama's Broken Heart"), LeAnn Rimes ("Crazy Women"), the Band Perry ("Better Dig Two"), and Kacey Musgraves ("Follow Your Arrow"), and 12 Stories reflects some of the same skills that brought her to the upper reaches of the charts. In her songs, Clark is tuneful and defiant, happily celebrating the virtues of weed and rebellion, but Clark never comes across as a redneck. She's on the outside but she's an observer, not an outcast, noticing the quirks and eccentricities of her brethren instead of diving head-on into their madness. Perhaps some songwriters would permit themselves a certain measure of distance if they wrote in this fashion, never letting their hands get dirty, but Clark is empathetic in her heart, seeing the humanity in the divorcees, women dealing with hungover lovers, whoever needs to take a little pill just to get through the day. As a singer, she avoids full-throated showstoppers for something better: she's sly and strong, mining heartbreak and sneaking in punch lines at unexpected times. Her songs are constructed in a similar fashion, slowly gaining power as they unfold, sometimes seeming simple but revealing complexities upon a close listen. Similarly, 12 Stories doesn't hit hard musically: it creeps and insinuates, its hooks slowly, deeply settling in. No one song is a knockout but the cumulative effect is overpowering: as the album reaches its conclusion, the strength and clarity of Clark's voice becomes undeniable and, looking back, it's possible to hear her identity clearly within those hits she penned for superstars. Perhaps she's too subtle to be a stadium-filling superstar, but the superb 12 Stories showcases a unique artist who stands firmly, proudly on her own merits.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine