Brandy Clark is one of the finest rhymers in Nashville. In addition to finding unexpected pairings of words, she can use a simple AABB to blur comedy and tragedy, or combine humor with pathos. “Crazy Women,” off her 2013 debut 12 Stories, opens with the memorable question of “Who’d’a guessed that Aqua Net/Could start a fire with a single cigarette?” Both set-up and punchline, that couplet doesn’t treat the arsonist as a joke just because she McGuyvers her revenge from household items. Instead, it reminds you that a woman wronged is a woman to be reckoned with.

There are more great examples on her fourth album, matter-of-factly titled Brandy Clark, but what’s more surprising are the few instances when her rhymes fall flat. On the swampy murder ballad “Ain’t Enough Rocks,” Clark relates the story of a woman whose abusive husband turns his attention to her younger sister. They weigh his body down, then plead ignorance with the police. “Cops blamed it on his liver, so they never drug the river,” she sings. “Those girls don’t even shiver when they’re fishing off that dock.” Perhaps in another, more animated version of the song, those lines might stick out as defiant: a third finger in the face of anyone who might well, actually… the song’s vigilantism. But in this grave and self-consciously southern gothic version—more “Janie’s Got a Gun” than “Goodbye Earl”—she delivers that clever procession of liver-river-shiver in a self-serious whisper that deflates the song’s righteous anger.

“Ain’t Enough Rocks” is both the opening track on Brandy Clark and the only third-person, character-driver song on an album full of first-person testimonials on love, sex, family, and country music. Its position as the opener is a confusing bit of sequencing, but one that gestures toward a larger problem. This is a collection that embraces melancholy to the neglect of humor, world-weariness at the expense of wit. Produced by Brandi Carlile, this self-titled album only captures a few facets of a deeply complex artist. Clark can break your heart with a turn of phrase or a stray observation, but too often she sings like she’s suppressing a sly wink. That’s exactly what she needs to sell the line on “Buried” that goes, “I’ll be an over-you-achiever.” Rather than a phrase that laughs in the face of unending heartache, it’s just a bad pun.

On the other hand, those are just sour moments, stray clunkers. Pun aside, “Buried” is impeccably penned and beautifully performed. “If you don’t want me/If you’re beyond me/If you don’t love me anymore,” Clark sings on the chorus, as the instruments fall away to leave her delicate twang hanging in the air. There’s a powerful story in the way she delivers that “if”: worry and sadness and fear in the i, resignation and acceptance in the way she cuts off that f. If there are some flaws in her diamonds, there are plenty of instances that make you realize that Clark can do things with a song that others simply cannot. Her depiction of her grandma in “She Smoked in the House” is so vivid, so precise, so lovingly observed that you mourn this woman who “saved in Folgers cans, swore store credit was a scam.” By the end of the song she’s your grandma, too.

An accomplished songwriter, Clark is also one of Nashville’s best writers about music, and she includes on every album at least one track about how music can make you feel understood, how it can reflect your life back to you. Songs become metaphors for lost lovers, hope chests for stray memories, especially on “Best Ones”: “The good songs don’t get stuck inside my head long after they’re over/They don’t sound like Lower Broadway with your head on my shoulder… but the best ones do.” Even on the merely good ones, there’s always the sense of someone living in Clark’s lyrics, making decisions about how to transform those feelings into melodies and rhymes.

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Brandy Clark: Brandy Clark