* * * *1/2 (four and ½ stars out of five)
Let me begin by saying “Wow.” I’ve been saying “Wow” about Brandi Carlile ever since her self-titled debut appeared in 2005. “Wow” because the first thing I expected from a singer named Brandi Carlile was the next big-cutesy-teen-pop thing, and I got something very different. Here was a brand new artist who could sing tenderly one minute and wail like a banshee the next. On top of that, she could write. She delivered on this promise in spades for her second album, 2007’s “The Story.” No sophomore slump for Brandi, no way. With producer T-Bone Burnett at the helm, “The Story” offered an even more cohesive – and powerful – set of songs than its predecessor. TV took notice – Grey’s Anatomy featured the title track, and our young heroine was on her way.
Fast forward to 2009 and “Give Up The Ghost.” It was hard for me to imagine that Brandi could take things a level higher than “The Story,” but she’s done it. The CD kicks off with Looking Out, a blast of rock and roll that hits like a shot of adrenaline. It’s a song about friendship and caring that grabs you by the ears and never lets go.
I know the darkness pulls on you
But it’s just a point of view
When you’re outside looking in
You belong to someone
And when you feel like giving in
And the coming of the end
Like your heart could break in two
Someone loves you
There are other standout rockers on the disc; Dreams, the lead single, has an infectious, persistent drum beat, Dying Day is propelled along by an energetic acoustic strum, and Caroline is an up-tempo little ditty, featuring Elton John’s barrelhouse piano (sounds great) and backing vocals (not so much). These tunes make it clear that Brandi can rock with the best of them, but the emotional centerpiece of this record is That Year, a ballad about Brandi finally coming to terms with a high school friend’s suicide ten years after the fact.
You could have taken some time away
Instead of a long drop, instead of a leap of faith
Ten years I never spoke your name
Now it feels good to say that you’re my friend again
The years of regret and the relief that comes with reconciliation are palpable in Brandi’s voice. Beautifully sung and tenderly played, this is one for the ages. Wow, yet again.
In closing, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Brandi’s long time guitarists, twin brothers Tim (acoustic and electric) and Phil (bass) Hanseroth. These two guys have provided solid support for Brandi throughout all of her recorded work, and their backing vocals on I Will are something to behold. Guest stars like the aforementioned Sir Elton, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls, and Benmont Tench of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers only help add to the buzz building around Brandi. For her, the sky’s the limit – so hop on board and enjoy the ride.
— Mark Klemow
P.S. I recently had the opportunity to see Brandi live at the Beacon Theater in NYC and she and her band were phenomenal. She’s returning to our area with shows on February 5th at Monmouth University’s Pollak Theatre in Long Branch and February 6th at the Wellmont Theatre in Montclair. For ticket information, check out www.brandicarlile.com.