Tag Archives: Brandi Carlile

Album Review: Brandi Carlile–By the Way, I Forgive You

Rating: 8/10

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.
Thank you 

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.

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Album Review: The Secret Sisters–You Don’t Own me Anymore

Rating: 7.5/10

It’s no secret that traditional-sounding country has little, and female representation has even less, place in the mainstream today, so it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that the vintage, traditional Secret Sisters lost their major label deal and struggled to get by despite their incredible talent. It’s also been pointed out recently that the mainstream has a noticeable lack of female producers, and it’s not as if there are a ton of them in the independent/Americana world either, so it seems fitting that the Sisters’ latest record, aptly entitled You Don’t Own me Anymore and very much an album of empowerment and freedom from control, would be produced by Brandi Carlile. And for the most part, it’s a great showcase of the Sisters’ vintage sound and undeniable talent.

I use the word “vintage” more than “traditional” because this record harkens back very much to the earliest days in country, and it’s like something you can imagine your grandmother playing and loving. It’s not necessarily reflected in the themes, like the timeless Colter Wall debut, but in the sound and overall mood of the record. It’s a simple album, not relying too much on production to tell these stories but instead playing to the strengths of Laura and Lydia Rogers and allowing their vocals to be the highlight. And indeed, the sisters’ incredible harmonies shine forth as the greatest asset to this whole thing. It’s the dissonance in the beautiful “Carry Me” that adds to the raw emotion, and it’s the reimagining of “Kathy’s song” with harmony that ultimately makes it stand out here despite it being a cover. Although the opener, “Tennessee River runs Low,” is not one of my personal favorites, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a vocal masterpiece, showing off all kinds of crazy chords and harmonies and just being generally impressive.

The songwriting is another strength of this record. It’s definitely an album of empowerment, as embodied in the title track and the mournful “To All the Girls Who Cry,” featuring some nice piano and those excellent harmonies. Sometimes it seems directed at a controlling lover, like in the more upbeat “He’s Fine” or in the painfully honest “The Damage.” It’s probably also referring to their struggles in the music business, and the powerful thing is that even though the record is called You Don’t Own me Anymore, this person and/or entity that once owned them has obviously left an incredible, even irreparable mark. It’s a triumphant title, but it’s not a happy album; in fact, except for occasional fun breaks like the ode to Alabama entitled “King Cotton,” it’s a melancholy, sorrowful affair. But still, it brings comfort and healing in a way that only these types of albums, borne of struggle and filled with empathy, can. A song like “To All the Girls Who Cry” only works when you understand that they’ve done their fair share of crying themselves, and that sense of empathy permeating this record is what makes it so relatable.

It’s no secret that this album is great from a technical and critical standpoint, so why the 7.5 rating? Well, as a music fan, it honestly could have used some more energy, particularly in the back half. Sometimes the reliance on the vocal ability of the secret Sisters goes a bit too far. The vintage sound renders some of these tracks almost classical in nature; in fact, one of the best examples of that is the previously mentioned and lyrically beautiful “To All the Girls Who Cry.” As I said, it’s an album that played to the strengths of Laura and Lydia Rogers–credit to Brandi Carlile for that–and it’s quite simple. That’s both the best quality and the thing that ultimately holds it back slightly. Their talent is obvious throughout, but it’s stuff like “Carry Me,” “King Cotton,” and “He’s Fine” that will hold up better because their harmonies are simpler. Having said that, this record is one that grows on you with time, and as you start to dig further than the outstanding harmonies and really absorb the lyrics, you begin to uncover more of the underlying genius in the album. So, it’s a 7.5 for now, but that rating will probably increase with time.

Beautifully sung, painfully honest album. It may not be for everyone because of its vintage nature and a slight lack of energy, but it’s certainly worth your time, and after a few listens, you might just find it working its way into your heart like I did.

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