Clusterpluck Album Reviews: Hillbilly Deluxe (Brandy Clark, Kip Moore, and Hailey Whitters)

Clusterpluck is an album review roundup feature meant to say more with less.

For something different and fun today, I’m taking a second look at albums I covered last year, thanks to the release of their respective deluxe editions giving them new life in 2021

Brandy Clark your life is a record deluxe

Brandy Clark, Your Life is a Record (Deluxe Edition)

Brandy Clark’s Your Life is a Record is the album I liked the most of these three just based off the regular album itself, even if I’d still easily call it my least favorite of hers to date. It grew on me some over the course of the year, but as someone who’s always enjoyed the dark, starkly blunt side of Clark’s writing, Your Life is a Record – at least between “Long Walk” and “Better Boat” – was a bit too cutesy for my personal tastes. I also must admit that I wasn’t sure how a deluxe version of this album would play out, given the regular album’s thematic arc of exploring a bad breakup in Clark’s life. Granted, while these new tracks are playing in somewhat different territory, there’s enough sonic similarities to make it still feel cohesive as a whole, even if this still, ultimately, feels more like a collection of singles tacked onto an album, over anything else.

But they’re all pretty solid, and “Like Mine” just may just provide her hugest hook to date off the sweeping guitar textures. But if there’s any reason to listen further, it’s “Remember Me Beautiful,” which joins the ranks of “I Cried” and “Since You’ve Gone to Heaven” as being her best death-related songs to date by prioritizing one’s commitment to preserving their last, beautiful moments of humanity. Oh, and “Same Devil” with Brandi Carlile, about the hypocrisies that come with judgment for things beyond one’s control like drug addiction that’s spiraled beyond control or repressed sexuality that’s explored through some very complicated framing. Indeed, even if these aren’t meant to support the aforementioned arc, there’s a part of me that enjoys Clark tapping back into very real, dark, individualistic stories with the lusher sonic backdrop to support it that the original didn’t really have, outside of “Pawn Shop.” I’ll say this, though: If the original album got something right over this version, it’s the better version of “The Past is the Past,” as the new one plays things much more chipper in the accompanying guitar groove, heightened tempo, and brighter punch overall. It’s not a good fit compared to the original, which felt more like an exhausting sigh of relief and a closing of a door on a complicated chapter that was still painted with a tinge of sadness. As it is, I still wouldn’t say I love this album, but the new tracks do help. Strong 7/10 – it’s always good to have new Clark music.

Buy or stream the album.

Kip Moore wild world

Kip Moore, Wild World (Deluxe)

There’s a part of me that feels bad going into Kip Moore’s work lately, mostly because I haven’t loved anything since Wild Ones and desperately want to, if only because I respect the independent, individualistic spirit he brings to the country music genre. Granted, I’d have a hard time calling his actual music country, and that extends to these deluxe tracks off of Wild World. That’s not a slight, mind you. If anything, all of the albums reviewed here today are strengthened by their additional add-ons, enough to where I wish they just led a new project instead of being leftovers. But, hey, 2020 was a thing. And I do really like the changes made here, even if lyrical content is about the last thing to appreciate with them. I may only like “Midnight Slow Dance” for that propulsive, driving groove, but considering Moore knows good basslines are the best foundation for that sort of sweeping sentiment and that he’s always been one hell of a presence behind the microphone, it’s kind of awesome. And even when the “opener” “Don’t Go Changin’” slows things down for a groove that’s a bit choppier, it’s got the swagger and confidence behind it in the meatier guitar riffs that come through excellently here in ways that tracks off the original Wild World just didn’t. Again, though, lyrics are always questionable with Moore, and while I wouldn’t say his performances ever feel overblown, it doesn’t help that “How High” carries a pretty ridiculous ending and resorts to the played-out “your love is my drug” trope.

I think what surprised me, then, was “Man’s Gotta Do,” which is exactly what it’s advertised as in the whole “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” trope, but never aims for chest-pumping bravado. If anything, it’s more about the maturity required out of complex, everyday situations, like divorce or teenage pregnancies here – and where being a “man” requires growing up, respecting those boundaries and taking an equal amount of responsibility for past actions and those moving forward. Sure, it’s a bit cliché in the overall framing – you just know one of these men is being shipped off for war eventually – but it’s a surprisingly great closer that nearly matches the original “Payin’ Hard.” Light 7/10 – maybe I’m coming back around on Moore after all.

Buy or stream the album.

Hailey Whitters Living The Dream

Hailey Whitters, Living the Dream (Deluxe)

So, if you haven’t noticed by now, the common theme with this roundup is a slight disappointment with the original album release and a satisfaction with what’s been added to it. And I think the deluxe version of Hailey Whitters’ The Dream album provides the biggest amount of improvement across the board. My original issue was always one of production that could feel a little chintzy and overblown in supporting content that could be a little scattershot, so of course I’m thrilled to hear “Fillin’ My Cup” flip the script for a lighthearted, breezy, fun take on the whole “glass is half full” trope – and with some really nice fiddle added, too.

I think that’s what I like overall about these tracks: They’re a little breezier, a little more rollicking, and not aiming to take themselves that seriously. And the fiddle really is a nice complement to the sandier tones here, especially when she’s joined by Trisha Yearwood for what might as well be the natural extension of “She’s in Love With the Boy” on “How Far Can it Go?,” especially with the melody blatantly tipping its hat towards that era. And though I’m not wild about the sharper harmonies between Whitters and Lori McKenna on the bridge of “How to Break a Heart,” I still like that it’s unfurling its message of karma line-by-line in looser fashion. Plus, she even made me like a track featuring Jordan Davis on “The Ride,” which is probably the one track here that could have easily fit on the original album, but features a much better mixing and blend in the low-end, rattled smolder of the groove. I certainly like it better than “Glad to Be Here,” which is damn-near apocalyptic in its pretty on-the-nose take of not caring if the world ends tomorrow when you’ve got everything you need (another way of saying I’m not surprised to see Brent Cobb here), and can’t believe anyone else would ever dare complain about their own situations. It taps into the preachier side of Whitters’ writing I didn’t care for on The Dream, and I prefer “The Ride” for its more populist embrace of that same sentiment, by putting herself on the same level as that audience. As it is, though, this is really solid and a huge improvement from the original. Strong 7/10 – I’d love to hear her build off this sound.

Buy or stream the album.