This week Aphoristical Album Reviews takes a look at recent releases from two female artists in the Americana/country zone. Both of these records have lovely production and strong songwriting, and are highly recommended.
Katie Pruitt grew up in Atlanta, and was raised Catholic. Her debut album Expectations, released at the age of 25, is focused on coming-of-age issues. Pruitt writes about the tension of growing up LGBTQ in a conservative household. Songs like ‘Normal’ and ‘Expectations’ are open in their portrayal of Pruitt’s experiences.
What’s it like to be normal?
To want what normal girls should?
God knows life would be easier.
If I could be normal, then trust me, I would.
Pruitt’s voice is warm and full, with a pleasant rasping edge and southern accent that recalls Stevie Nicks. This impression augmented by first single ‘Expectations’, which taps into the same warm pop/rock as Fleetwood Mac, with lead guitar that recalls Lindsey Buckingham. She uses her voice wisely, often singing within herself, but able to launch to dramatic emotional climaxes. These songs are robustly written, and Pruitt’s also a strong lyricist (“But her body’s my temple and her soul is my savior” is a great line), but she has the vocal ability to invigorate lesser material.
‘Expectations’ taps into an upbeat pop/rock sound, but much of Pruitt’s material on the rest of the the record is more restrained. There’s classy and straightforward country on ‘Normal’ and ‘Lovin’ Her’. The moodier pieces like ‘Grace Has A Gun’ and ‘My Mind’s a Ship That’s Going Down’ recall Julien Baker, who covers similar thematic territory in the intersection between LGBTQ and faith. Pruitt cites Brandi Carlile (see the handy chart below!) as an influence, and her admiration for another golden-voiced Americana artist makes sense.
Since Expectations is so autobiographical, it will be interesting to see where Pruitt goes with her next release. She’s clearly a talented vocalist and emotionally honest writer, so I’m expecting more great things.
Your Life Is A Record
Brandy Clark was born in Morton, Washington, a small logging town. She grew up enamoured with country, naming the Patsy Cline movie Sweet Dreams as a particularly strong influence. Clark started her career as a songwriter – she’s written material for Kenny Rogers, Sheryl Crow, as well as co-writing Kacey Musgraves songs like ‘Follow Your Arrow’. She released her debut record, 12 Stories, in 2013, and Your Life Is A Record is her third album.
Personally I always get confused between several similarly named musicians, so here’s a handy diagram.
Lead singer of The Go-Gos, solo hits like ‘Heaven is a Place on Earth’.
Former captain of the Australian women’s cricket team.
Americana artist, member of The Highwomen.
American country artist, whom we are discussing in this post.
2016’s Big Day in a Small Town utilised a mainstream country sound, notably on the heavy guitars of the lead single ‘Girl Next Door’. In comparison, producer Jay Joyce and Clark made the decision to use more experimental textures on Your Life Is a Record. The predominance of acoustic instruments and slightly psychedelic facade recalls Musgraves’ 2018 masterpiece Golden Hour. While Golden Hour was a warm celebration of a new marriage, Your Life is a Record is written at the end of a fifteen year relationship, dissected in ‘Who Broke Whose Heart?’ and ‘Can We Be Strangers’.
Despite the sincerity of the breakup songs, Clark is a born storyteller and the best songs use this skill. ‘Pawn Shop’ tells the story of a pawned guitar and wedding ring adeptly, while Clark’s story of a ramshackle old car on ‘Bad Car’ is also beautifully written.
I know it’s a bad car, I know it’s a piece of junkBad Car
I know the best tyre on it, is in the trunk
Clark’s such a good storyteller that it overshadows her other songs, even though the diversity in approach is welcome. Randy Newman adds his croaky vocals to ‘Bigger Boat’ – I like the sentiment of inclusiveness (“The rich get richer, the rest get a little more broke/We’re gonna need a bigger boat”), but Clark’s better at small scale portraits. She’s also best when she’s writing sensitively – the dismissal of ‘Long Walk’ isn’t as enjoyable as the warmth of ‘I’ll Be The Sad Song’. Clark slips into torch song territory on ‘Love Is A Fire’ and ‘Can We Be Strangers’, but the creative arrangements keep Your Life Is A Record feeling fresh.
Your Life Is A Record has sent me back to explore Clark’s previous records, always a good sign. It feels uneven, but mostly because the best songs are so good.