The Strop is a place to whet your appetite for damn good stories. Check back every Friday for our latest recommendations. This week, the recommendations come from Wrangler editor Brandon Williams.
1. “Who You Thought I Was,” Brandy Clark
It’s a not-really-secret that everyone knows but refuses to accept: good (mainstream) country music right now is being made mostly by women. While the men are out there dancing in tight jeans and trying to think of new rhymes to pair with their truck’s dangling fuzzy balls, female artists are putting out songs that still sound like something your grandma and Hank Williams might recognize.
It’s gotten better these last few years, but we’re still waiting for the supposed promised land revival that Chris Stapleton (who’s responsible for much of the worst of bro country), Sturgill Simpson (who’s off on some psychedelic acid-washed rock experiment), and Tyler Childers (who is awesome, but I really wish he knew how to ungarble that voice. I know that’s heresy, but jeez). All that to say, Brandy Clark has been quietly carrying the torch for country music for years now.
She’ll never be the biggest seller, but her lyrics are impeccable, her music always sounds controlled even when that control is undergirded with fury, her voice is downhome in the best ways, and she can turn a phrase like nobody’s business. “Who You Thought I Was” isn’t the most country-sounding thing she’s ever released, but if all country was at least this good, we’d be in a much better place in the world.
2. “Standards,” Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen
Meanwhile out in Texas, they’re still pissed off at the country music establishment just as much as they were back in the days of Armadillo Records. What I love about this song in particular is that even though it purports to, it doesn’t really bother to explain why they’re mad in the narrative portion of the song, they just are. The twisting nature of what is and isn’t “real” and what a person is and isn’t allowed to be in country music is so incredibly complicated at this point that the highest earners in the genre are sellouts who portray themselves as outlaws, while the people who are closest to some of the older definitions of country music have stepped out to create an entirely new genre for themselves (Americana), while the folks who complain most about not being on the radio use that to get more success on the regional circuit than a few good spins on the radio dial would’ve ever gotten them.
What I’m saying is, you can circle the argument around so different ways, depending on who you want to argue deserves the anointing at any particular moment. This song is a great example of that: these two artists, while almost unknown outside their home state, are some of the most successful Texas/Red-Dirt Country artists, and yet here they are putting together a damn good song about how they’re not actually massive stars. Uh-huh. Ridiculous, and I love it, and I love that not only do they believe it, but so does everybody else, because authenticity is everything and authenticity in country music requires that everyone be an outsider. Plus, it contains possibly the strongest protest song lyric double entendre I’ve ever heard (“I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards”). That sound at the beginning, by the way, is a fiddle, my friends.