Sunday, October 11, 2009

Brandi Carlile on a Sunday

The new Brandi Carlile cd came out this past week. I discovered her about four years ago when a friend sent me KINK (a Portland, OR radio station) Live cd consisting of performances done in their studios. Brandi's song was my favorite in that particular collection of songs.

I loved her last cd, The Story. I saw her in concert summer before last in St Paul at the state fair where she played some of the material that would be on her new cd. It was great, and I've been anticipating its release ever since.

This cd lives up to the anticipation. It's different than The Story in some ways. It doesn't have as much of the rocker sensibility that you have with songs like The Story or My Song (a little bit in I Have Dreams and the bridge of Before it Breaks) , two of my Brandi favorites. Not much growling on this cd. And I miss that. Some of my favorite moments in the concert in St Paul were covers of Fortunate Son and Folsom Prison Blues. Brandi can flat rock and she has the band to pull it off (she is backed primarily by twins who play guitar and bass and who are great vocalists in their own right). Not much of that on this cd. Some reviewers, in fact, have placed it in the country genre.

(Another favorite part of the concert in St Paul was when Brandi played about 10 opening verses to country standards that she grew up hearing. She can do the country thing. She knows how to slide into a note).

What this work does feature is the piercing clarity of her voice and portrayals of the tenderness of life, especially with regard to desire for the other. These two things, her voice and tenderness, go very well together. She has two qualities in her voice that make it striking. It has an edge to it. It's textured and distinctive. But it is also clear as a bell, especially as she slides into falsetto. These things don't often go together. You're either Bonnie Raitt or Sarah McLachlan, not usually both and even both in the same phrase. This gives her songs a great emotional depth in performance.

In Pride and Joy, for instance, the of resignation and loss is captured perfectly with the break at the edge of her tone: "The time of day I can't recall, the kind of thing that takes it toll... all in all it wasn't bad, all in all it wasn't good." No less moving, however, is when her voices opens up in the longing chorus. With plaintive transparency she sings, "Where are you now? do you let me down? do you make me grieve for you? do I make you proud? do you get me now? am I your pride and joy?" A perfect fit.

It's worth noting here that Rick Rubin is the producer of this cd. I buy almost any cd when I know he is the producer, regardless of the artist. (Though I have resisted the latest Neil Diamond cd). Rubin has a way of isolating the voice of the performer, finding just the right setting (usually spare) to bring out all the textures. The most vivid example of this is the multi-cd collaboration Rubin had with Johnny Cash toward the end of Cash's life. Cash's voice, wavering but proud, fills the space completely that Rubin leaves for it. And some of the same Rubin trademarks are in play here. To go back to Pride and Joy, there are piano accents that don't carry the melody but give it a certain pounding gravity. And as the second chorus reaches its climax the strings come to the fore and swell the lilting longing of the song. Pretty great.

There are several good to great songs here (love Before it Breaks, but I can't get around Caroline, performed with Elton John). The song I keep coming back to, though, is Oh Dear. It may not ultimately prove to be my favorite song on the cd, but it is the one that has grabbed my attention through the first few listens. It has a Beatles-esque quality to it, espcially in the call and response sections. The ukulele and the harmonies are perfect (thanks, twins, someone help me with their names). And the vocal is sublime. No one moves from full throat to falsetto more brilliantly than Brandi, and this song showcases that ability. "Together you and I forever... It's only you that my heart desires, only you alone can break my fall." Beautiful.

Brandi sings about the desire of love, and often of love that is just out of reach. Her voice is built for longing and this cd is a perfect fit. Another Rick Rubin cd, Jakob Dylan's most recent effort, features the lyric, "my line of work suits me fine." That's a wonderful thing to find and beautiful to behold. Fit, vocation, meaning. Brandi's line of work suits her fine.


happytheman said...

Love the new Brandi Carlile, though I have to admit I've only gone one time through and it was the 1AM drive home from Dallas.

Keep burning up the IPOD with Bob Schneider's new one, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zero's, The Avett Bros. & Cheap's Trick Live Sgt Pepper CD.

Anonymous said...

Brandi's new CD is great :]
I came across your blog when I looked up the lyrics for 'Oh Dear'

And, by the way, the twins are Phil and Tim Hanseroth. Just for your info ;]