In a day and age when artists spawned by YouTube and reality show competitions are here today and gone tomorrow, Brandi Carlile represents a throwback to an era when truly gifted musicians achieved a level of respected longevity.
With the recent release of “By the Way, I Forgive You,” Carlile’s sixth studio outing, she’s firmly established quite the creative foothold for herself. Produced by the tandem of Americana guru Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, these 10 songs are less about artifice and more about honesty and craft — something that’s in short supply on the pop charts nowadays.
And while Carlile’s career path has found the Washington state native working with the likes of T-Bone Burnett and Rick Rubin on albums and landing on then-President Barack Obama’s Spotify playlist, she remains remarkably grounded and humble. So much so that she unfailingly shares the credit for her success with Tim and Phil Hanseroth, Carlile’s identical twin bandmates who have been her ride-or-dies from day one and continue to serve in that role.
“We met when I was just at the end of being a teenager and we were playing music and singing together. They were in other bands, and they had a band that was signed and dropped, and I was doing a lot of solo stuff, but I had been playing on and off with other bands, too. I proposed in a really over-the-top way that we quit everything else and totally focus on each other. I swore that I would get us a record deal — and I sold all my microphones and I bought Tim an EBow (a hand-held electric bow that replaces the pick and lets the guitar sound like strings, horns and woodwinds).
“I said we should quit everything and I don’t know why (they agreed), because they were adult men, but they did,” she laughingly recalled. “We made a pact right then and there that everything would be equal three ways, no matter what. And it always has been and it’s really, really worked for us as a band and for me, personally.”
Earnestness and raw emotion infuse Carlile’s latest opus. She lovingly shares the day-to-day parenting challenges she shares with her wife, Catherine Shepherd, with matter-of-fact couplets in the hypnotically acoustic tune “The Mother.” Mothers of daughter Evangeline, the lyrics include: “The first thing she took from me was selfishness and sleep/She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep/She filled my life with color, canceled plans and trashed my car/But none of that was ever who we are.” (The couple welcomed their second child, Elijah, last month.)
Elsewhere, Carlile opens with “Every Time I Hear That Song,” a story of forgiveness to an ex-lover, wrapped in layered harmonies and subtle French horn, and “Sugartooth,” a nod to a real-life troubled friend of the band who grappled with addiction. Driven by pounding piano and Carlile’s plaintive wailing, its Dylan-esque narrative is what Carlile calls bandmate Tim Hanseroth’s “opus and the best lyrics he’s ever written.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Add in the rich orchestration of the late Paul Buckmaster and what you have is a recording that hits you square in the heart and the head, particularly on the ending of “Party of One,” in which the singer-songwriter lays her soul bare as the arranger’s strings envelop her world-weary singing. It was a particular triumph for Carlile, who grew up idolizing Elton John and met Buckmaster at age 16, before first working with him a decade-plus later while recording her 2009 album, “Give Up the Ghost.”
“Elton John is one of the artists who has influenced me in such a fantastic way because he knows that Elton John is not a man and that Elton John is a combination of people, one of those people being Paul Buckmaster. He knew it so much that he pictured Paul Buckmaster in his early records. So you can cut a picture of Paul Buckmaster (from “Tumbleweed Connection”), say, if you were an obsessed 13-year-old girl and hang it on your wall. That’s when I became infatuated with Paul Buckmaster,” she said.
“Over the years, I have 10 Paul Buckmaster arrangements, and he was a real important influence on my life and a good friend. It’s unbelievable when he died, because it didn’t seem at all like he was running out of time when we were working on this album.”
The empathy that reverberates through Carlile’s music also translates to the real world via her Looking Out Foundation. Founded in 2008 by Carlile and the Hanseroths, this nonprofit fund supports causes and organizations with $1 from every concert ticket sold going toward these efforts. Among the causes that have benefited over the years are WhyHunger, the women’s self-defense movement Fight the Fear, and most recently, War Child, a charity that helps children of warfare.
As grand as “I Forgive You” sounds through speakers and/or headphones, Carlile promises more of the same for those venturing out to see her in a live setting, like her Tuesday (6/19) concert at the Paramount Theatre in Cedar Rapids.
“It’ll be different from anyone who’s seen me before. I’m doing a much longer set ... I’m bringing a string quartet, a new drummer, a French horn and a pianist. It’s going to be a big, refined and sophisticated show, but I’m still going to drink whiskey and lose my mind, so it’ll be great.”
WHAT: Brandi Carlile
WHERE: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
WHEN: 8 p.m. Tuesday (6/19)
TICKETS: $35 to $65, Paramount Ticket Office, (319) 366-8203 or Paramounttheatrecr.com
ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Bytheway.brandicarlile.com