Brandy Clark picks 10 essential country albums
A lot of people wouldn't be caught dead admitting to listening to, much less liking, their parents' music. But fast-rising country star Brandy Clark isn't like a lot of people. Growing up in the logging town of Morton, Washington (population: 900), she reveled in her folks' vinyl record collection; in fact, many of the discs that she was first exposed to by her parents (and grandparents) remain favorites to this day.
“I know the tendency with kids is to rebel and find your own music, but I was never that way," Clark says. "My parents handed down so much good music to me, and because my grandparents lived right next door, I was hearing what they had as well. I think I was really lucky to absorb all those influences, and they shaped my ears in some important ways."
Clark's witty and keenly observational lyrics helped to make her 2013 debut, 12 Stories, a head-turner. Before that, she scored a fistful of songwriting credits on hits by The Band Perry and Miranda Lambert, among others. According to Clark, her early influences planted the seeds of how she approaches her own songwriting.
“A lot of the greats are exceptional storytellers, as well as being awesome singers and musicians," she says. "That's something that's always stayed with me: 'How do I convey what I'm feeling with words and sounds? How do I tell a story that'll affect you?' There's a real power to an album of songs that casts a spell on you in that way. A great album isn't background music."
On the following pages, Clark talks about her picks for 10 essential country albums. "These aren't things with one or two amazing cuts and the rest is just OK. With each one of these records, I can listen to the whole thing from beginning to end and always come away inspired and enriched."
Patty Loveless – When Fallen Angels Fly (1994)
“This might be my favorite record of all time. From start to finish, it’s simply amazing. I love every song on it, and I'm just astounded by Patty’s performances throughout. It’s her best album, without a doubt.
“Only What I Feel was her record before this one, and I thought, ‘Oh, well, no way can she top it’ – it was so exceptional in every way – but then she did. There are songs that weren’t even singles on this album that are just as good, if not better, than the ones everybody knows. The last cut, Over My Shoulder, is absolutely gorgeous.”
Dolly Parton – Here You Come Again (1977)
“We had this record on vinyl. When I was growing up, we didn’t have TV for a while, but we had music, which was such a blessing. This album was in my parents’ collection, and I listened to it a lot.
“The title track is very poppy; the production of it is a little bouncy, so you think it’s a happy-go-lucky song. But slow it down and you’ll realize that it’s such a sad, sad sentiment.
“The record also has My And Little Andy, Two Doors Down and It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right – I mean, you just can’t find a bad cut on it. I’m always trying to rewrite Two Doors Down. I’ll hear other songs that remind me of it a little, so I guess I’m not the only one who’s inspired by it.”
Reba McEntire – For My Broken Heart (1991)
“I love sad songs, and this is a record full of sad songs, so it really touches me deeply. The title cut is genius in every way, but there’s so many other great tracks on the album. It’s something that you can really come back to time and time again.
“I remember when the record came out: Many of the members of Reba’s band had died in a plane crash, and she said that she just didn’t want to sing anything happy. This album really reflected her state of mind at the time. Artistically, I respected that. She wanted to do what was in her heart.”
George Strait – 50 Number Ones (2004)
“OK, so how do I summarize everything I love about George Strait with just one album? Of course – a greatest hits record! I might have listened to this album more than anything else on this list, especially during the last 10 years. I listen to 50 Number Ones all the time.
“George is on my iPod, he’s on my phone – he’s just in my life. The Chair, It Ain’t Cool To Be Crazy About You, Nobody In His Right Mind Would’ve Left Her – so many amazing songs. A lot of them were written by Dean Dillon, whom I just idolize.
“What can you say about George Strait as a singer? He’s a legend. I’ve always loved Merle Haggard too, and to me, there’s a little bit of Merle in George Strait. What’s funny about George is that he’s definitely what you’d call a ‘traditional’ country singer, but he still sounds very current. He’s one of the all-time greats.”
Patsy Cline – 12 Greatest Hits (1967)
“When I was nine years old, my mom bought me this record for my birthday – on a cassette – and it changed my life. Had I not heard this record and seen the movie Sweet Dreams, I might have become a totally different person than what I am today.
“I think I fell in love with country music because of this record. I remember the color of the cover, the dress she’s wearing – it just stays in my mind. The song Crazy could very well be my favorite song of all time. I know I'm not alone in saying that.
“A few years ago, I went to a record label showcase for a new artist. It was starting late, so I went to a bookstore to kill some time. In the music section was a CD copy of this album, so I bought it. I took it to my car and listened to it, and I got very emotional as it played. It took me right back to being a little girl and listening to it with my mom. It did everything to me that great music is supposed to.”
Garth Brooks – Garth Brooks (1989)
“Garth’s first two records really affected me. They came along at a time when I had grown tired of country music. I was a young teenager, and I guess it just wasn’t cool to listen to country at that age. But when a friend of mine played me Garth’s song The Dance, I went, ‘Who is this?’ It really got to me – it sounded so fresh. My friend was like, ‘You don’t know who this is? This is Garth Brooks!’ I was a little late to the party. But I went out that weekend and bought Garth’s first two records.
“He’s a brilliant singer, a great interpreter of other people’s material, a fantastic writer. He brought me back to country music – and I think he introduced a lot of people to the genre, as well.”
The Judds – Rockin' With The Rhythm (1985)
“My first adult record – before this, it was all Mickey Mouse and disco and stuff. I didn’t know that I loved The Judds at first. My mom got me this record ‘cause she wanted me to love them, but then I heard it and fell for them big-time.
“Have Mercy, Grandpa, Working In The Coal Mine, If I Were You – I can sing you this record in order; that’s how many times I've listened to it. I even know when it flips, when you get to the end of side A and you turn it over. I’ve got it down.
“Two great voices and such wonderful songs. I love, love, love this album.”
Garth Brooks – No Fences (1991)
“I got this one and Garth’s first album at the same time, but I think this one is my most favorite of the two. It’s got The Thunder Rolls and Wild Horses on it – two absolute classics.
“Once again, Garth hooked me back into country music at a time when I’d gotten away from it. I could listen to him and not feel uncool for liking him. He was one of the first guys who crossed over to non-country fans, but I found out about that later. He just hit me like, ‘Wow, this is good!’ When you’re young and something gets to you, you don’t’ analyze why you love it – you just do.
“When I first moved to Nashville, I had a roommate who would listen to records with me every Friday night. We had, like, five records that we always played, and those first two Garth albums were always part of that group.”
Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson – Pancho & Lefty (1983)
“I love honky-tonk stuff. This record takes me back to being a kid in the best way. I’m a huge Merle and Willie fan. They’re like peanut butter and jelly to me – you love ‘em both separately, but together they're really incredible.
“The title cut is fantastic, but Reasons To Quit and Half A Man are extraordinary. I think one of my strengths is storytelling, and Pancho & Lefty is a great storyteller album. People need to check this one out.”
Mary-Chapin Carpenter – Come On Come On (1992)
“Much like When Fallen Angels Fly, I love every song on this record. There’s a duet with Joe Diffie called Not Too Much To Ask that just slays me. Why was that not a single? But I think the record had, like, five big hits on it, so she had a lot to choose from.
“Like Patty Loveless, Mary-Chapin Carpenter came along at a time when I knew that I wanted to do music, so this record affected me profoundly on that level – as well as just being a fan. I was thinking, ‘Man, how do you write a song liked You Don’t Even Know Who I Am’? Or He Thinks He’ll Keep Her or I Feel Lucky – how do you write like that?
“She had a few records before this one, but this is the album that really hooked me. She changed my perception of music and gave me something to shoot for.”