By BRUCE DENNILL
Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
Brandi Carlile is in her mid-thirties, but her mien, songwriting and performance style, which often involves arrangements – built around a voice that leaps octave with ease – that variously rip your heart out and throw it into a dusty corner or take your soul and launch it into the stratosphere gives her the gravitas and natural authority of a much older artist.
At heart, Carlile is arguably a folkie with strong country music tendencies, but her 2011 release Live At Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony allowed for colossal, wall-shaking orchestral backing to be added to her already emotive compositions, to thrilling effect. By The Way, I Forgive You combines the strengths of both the quieter and louder approaches, giving it a significant impact – it sounds immediately persuasive – on the very first spin.
Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings’ production plays an important role from even earlier; slightly before the first note, even. There’s an open, live in the studio space, like the atmosphere created by a needle on vinyl, which Carlile and her band fill with instant emotion.
Every Time I Hear That Song’s first lines sum up the poignancy generated by most of Carlile’s oeuvre in just a few syllables: “A love song was playing on the radio; it made me kind of sad because it made me think of you.” In this opener is all the yearning, pathos and tangible aching of the great country and Americana classics – a formidable bar-setter for the collection. The Joke, one of the collection’s singles, follows that, positioning Carlile as a female Roy Orbison in terms of the power of her vocal and performance and the tone created by the lyrics and another opulent arrangement.
An entire album of that sort of emotional impact would be exhausting, so the beginning and “la, da, da” interludes in Hold Out Your Hand are something of a respite, though the dynamics are ramped up again for the choruses. The Mother is a much more intimate piece, a celebration of the relationship between Carlile and her daughter Evangeline that’s filled with tenderness, humour and palpable love.
Another great line kicks off “Whatever You Do”: “If I don’t owe you a favour, you don’t know me.” The song starts as a completely stripped-down acoustic guitar and voice number and doesn’t build too much beyond that until a late (and beautiful) string break, confirming the simple rule that if a song can properly connect with its audience without extra studio layers, it’s a strong composition.
Fulton County Jane Doe features a couple of harmonic notes at the beginning that recall the opening of Buffalo Springfield’s For What It’s Worth, but is otherwise not the equal of that hit, being the first song on this collection that doesn’t scream excellence. That’s not to say it’s weak, but simply that it’s the most straightforward piece to this point; mainstream country rock that most artists would be more than happy to put out. Sugartooth is similarly commercial, but benefits greatly from the Carlile vocal treatment.
Most Of All sees a return to tenderness as the singer considers her relationship with her father; Harder To Forgive builds toward an vaguely Abba-esque crescendo and Party Of One closes the album with a raw, honest piano ballad that ensures that you finish By The Way, I Forgive You both bruised and grateful that you’ve been put through the ringer.
A beautiful album.
- Every Time I Hear That Song 9
- The Joke 8.5
- Hold Out Your Hand 8.5
- The Mother 8
- Whatever You Do 8.5
- Fulton County Jane Doe 7
- Sugartooth 7.5
- Most Of All 7
- Harder To Forgive 7.5
- Party Of One 8