Saturday, May 5, 2018

CD Odyssey Disc 1135: Brandi Carlile

I really wanted to get to the music store for a few new releases this weekend, but fate is conspiring against me. I might make a foray on Sunday, or I might just wait until next weekend. CDs won’t be totally phased out by then…although it might be close.

Disc 1135 is… By the Way, I Forgive You
Artist: Brandi Carlile

Year of Release: 2018

What’s up with the Cover? It’s a Giant Head cover! In this case it is in the form of a painting titled “BTW Brandi” by Scott Avett, of the Avett Brothers. I’ve got a couple of Avett Brothers albums and am on the lookout for a third, but I’ll talk about them when I roll ‘em.

How I Came To Know It: I read a review of this album, checked out a few singles on YouTube and decided I’d it a shot.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Brandi Carlile albums and I like them all, but as I noted when I reviewed “Bear Creek” back at Disc 1114, I’m still getting to know them. “By the Way, I Forgive You” is in a dead heat with “The Firewatcher’s Daughter” at #1. “Firewatcher’s Daughter” is a bit more rock and roll flavoured, and this record is folksier so they’re hard to compare. For now, I’ll give “By The Way, I Forgive You” the edge, while reserving the right to change my mind later.

Ratings: 4 stars

Brandi Carlile’s songs demand your attention. So much so that there was a gap of about 20 minutes from when I sat down to write this review, and when the first words hit the page. I had things to say, but once Carlile started singing I just wanted to hear what she had to say instead.

Carlile sings with a mix of world weariness and hope but whether she is feeling uplifted or downtrodden (and this record features plenty of both) she delivers her message with a depth of conviction that makes her impossible to ignore.

Purists will call this country music, and from a song construction perspective they’d be right, but Carlile has the soul of a folk singer. She tells stories about herself, about others, and blurs the lines sufficiently that you are rarely sure which is which. Carlile’s songs don’t worm their way into your heart so much as they pierce their way in like an arrow: sharp, fast and not without a little pain.

The production is a clever mix of guitar, piano and the flourish of a violin section that is 90% divine (it goes on a bit too long on the record’s final song…but I quibble). Ten years into her career, Carlile’s vocals are as powerful as ever.

The record beings with “Every Time I Hear That Song” a soft confessional about a failed love affair that was wrong from the start. Carlile’s raspy voice tells the story with a mix of hurt and forgiveness. She explores the complicated feelings when you’ve held onto something too long, knowing that you’re better off letting it go while recognizing doing that is closing the door on a part of yourself. As Carlile puts it:

“Without you around I’ve been doing just fine…
Except for anytime I hear that song.”

Some doors are harder to close than others.

By the Way, I Forgive You” features many lost souls. On “Fulton County Jane Doe” Carlile tells the story of a woman found murdered that has never been identified, infusing that person’s life with meaning, and exploring the darkness of knowing that bad things happen to people for no reason. Carlile can’t offer this murdered stranger much, but she makes a vow nonetheless:

“And when my heart has no rest
And a thousand things are on my mind
I'll always save some room for you
I won't let you get left behind”

Sugartooth” is a song about addiction and the slow degrading of the human spirit into drugs and loss. Carlile defends these lost souls, calling out those who would dismiss their stories, or judge them without knowing their story. Whatever else, Carlile makes a promise that these people will not be forgotten, and through these songs that promise is kept.

That’s a lot of depressing stuff, but the record is equal parts uplifting. When Carlile sings about family and connection through generations she is at her most inspiring. On “Most of All” she gives a shout out to her parents for the values they gave her. When she sings about her mom and how:

“...most of all
She taught me how to fight
How to move across the line
Between the wrong and the right"

I can’t help but thing of all the strength my mom gave me growing up. Thanks, mom.

Speaking of mothers, “The Mother” is one of the finest songs about motherhood I’ve ever heard. I don’t want kids and don’t typically even like them (although once they’re teenagers they’re alright) but for those three and a quarter minutes I listen to “The Mother” I get it.

The best part is Carlile doesn’t pretend that she isn’t giving something up through motherhood. Instead she absorbs those choices, and explains why this is the right choice for her. She sums it up right near the end of the song (delivering the punch line right after the bridge, ensuring your ears are tuned in even closer):

"All my rowdy friends are out accomplishing their dreams
But I am the mother of Evangeline

"And they've still got their morning paper and their coffee and their time
And they still enjoy their evenings with the skeptics and the wine
Oh, but all the wonders I have seen, I will see a second time
From inside of the ages through your eye"

Yeah, I’m still out there enjoying my evenings with the skeptics and the wine with no regrets, but great music makes you see the other side. Sometimes that’s a murdered Jane Doe, sometimes that’s an addict and sometimes that’s the joy of motherhood. Well done, Brandi.

Best tracks: Every Time I Hear That Song, The Joke, The Mother, Whatever You Do, Fulton County Jane, Sugartooth,   

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