I would like to forgive Pastor Tim.
I forgive you for deciding not to baptize me when I was a teenager for being gay.
It was not so much that you wouldn’t or couldn’t do it because of the tenets put in place by the baptist rules and traditions, but because you waited until all my family and friends were present and waiting in the pews for the ceremony.
I don’t believe you did it to humiliate me – I think you struggled with the decision and simply ran out of time… I think you probably still do struggle with it.
I’d like you to know that I still love you and that I understand we’re all on a journey together, trying our best to walk through the world with honor and dignity – but what I want you to know most of all is that you did not damage my faith. Not in god, not in humanity and not in myself.
The experience inspired me to help other gay kids and my spiritual LGBTQ brothers and sisters come to terms with the disappointments they’ve endured on the rugged road to peace and acceptance. I think you’d appreciate that process.
You’ve helped far more people than you’ve hurt and you helped me too.
These words came from Brandi Carlile as part of the promotion ahead of this release, as she encouraged fans to share their own stories of forgiveness. Sometimes, background information is irrelevant when discussing an album, but with this record, it’s important to understand Brandi’s empathy for people, her ability to put herself in the place of others, and her search for forgiveness, no matter how hard it might be. These songs seemingly don’t have much to do with one another on the surface, but her ability to understand and empathize with others connects these tracks and explains the title of this record perfectly.
Unwrapping this album takes time, and taking in all that Brandi Carlile has to say here can be quite honestly daunting at first. I say sometimes that a record is an easy listen; this release is anything but easy to listen to, as there’s not really a moment of levity or relief on the entire project, except for perhaps “The Mother.” That said, it’s certainly a record that will make you feel something, one that will be relatable to people in many difficult situations, and one that carries much hope and understanding within it.
The greatest asset here is Brandi herself. It’s her ability to command her voice, her intensity and power on songs like “The Joke,” and the way every note seems to come from a place of pure passion. Sometimes, that passion comes because the songs are personal; I mentioned “The Mother,” and this one is the closest thing to a light moment, as she’s thankful for her daughter Evangeline. Still, even here, there’s some underlying pain, as she mentions the sacrifices she’s made and remarks that the world has been against them. She also adds a touch of personal pain and experience to “The Joke,” as she reaches out to kids who don’t fit normal stereotypes, letting them know that in the end, the joke will be on the ones who laughed at them.
Perhaps even more valuable than her personal experience, though, is the unique ability of Brandi Carlile to put herself in another’s place and make you feel all of their pain and suffering with her voice and lyrics. She sings about addiction on “Sugartooth,” weaving a tale of a man who fights the battle all his life only to commit suicide. She reminds us, “no point now to judge him in vain. If you haven’t been there, you don’t know the pain.” It’s a startling reminder that maybe, under different circumstances, that could have been any of us. She wrote a song here called “Fulton County Jane Doe” specifically to remind people thinking about committing suicide that they were once loved, that they were called something sweet by someone once which means something more than Fulton County Jane. She wants all these downtrodden people to know she thinks of them and prays for them. We all could learn from her compassion.
Forgiveness, like the album’s title would suggest, does serve to tie these tracks together and give the record a cohesive feel. The opener, “Every Time I Hear That Song,” sees Carlile letting go of an forgiving an ex, indeed thanking her for bringing Brandi to this point in her life. She’s displaying that empathy again, as she can put herself in her ex’s shoes and understand that leaving Brandi was hard for this woman as well. “Whatever you Do” arrives in the middle of the record with another story of love, this one implying that she loves this person so much that it’s actually affecting her life and dreams. For most of the song, this one is just simply Brandi Carlile and her acoustic guitar, allowing the depth of the lyrics to shine, as well as that commanding presence in her voice. The album closes with a return to love and forgiveness, tying the whole thing together with a moving piano ballad called “Party of One.” Here, Carlile is sitting alone in a restaurant after a fight with her lover. She’s not ready to leave the relationship, simply wanting some time alone. By the end of the song, she’s going home to be with her lover because in the end, no argument is worth giving up that love. She’ll forgive and work through this because she knows that this love means more than anything which came between them. It’s a really powerful way to close the album, and the string section comes in at the end to add to the intensity of the song and the message.
All that said, this is not a perfect album. The highs are incredibly high, but there are some lows. “Hold out Your Hand” just doesn’t work on any level, most notably the vocals, as instead of commanding the song in her usual way, Brandi just seems to be shouting over everything on this track. It comes off more like a lot of noise than a wall of sound, which is what I think they were going for here. “Harder to Forgive” fits in with the themes running through the album, but it’s the ninth track of ten, and it doesn’t really say anything as profound as the other songs before it. The others paint the pictures through compelling stories and relatable characters, whereas this song’s message is almost too transparent. We’ve already heard this done much better. “Fulton County Jane doe” also could have gone a little deeper; the foundation is great, but it’s a little underdeveloped lyrically, particularly in the verses, and unlike a lot of the other songs here, it’s also not that interesting melodically.
Overall, though, this is a solid record. For those of you who like to get caught up in the rating, this is one that I debated quite a lot because I can see this album either growing on me with time as the depth of the material continues to impact me, or getting a bit older after awhile because of the sheer intensity of this project. Consider this a tiny, light 8 for now, with a lot of room to change. For those of you more concerned with finding good music, there are some incredible songs here, and Brandi Carlile is certainly a forced to be reckoned with vocally. This may not be the record for everyone, but it’s certainly a good one.