Brandi Carlile

Reviewed by Rachel Wifall

I had the pleasure of seeing Brandi Carlile in performance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City, on May 25, 2006. She is a 23-year-young singer/songwriter from Washington State who sings and plays acoustic guitar with power and a country flair. Her debut album Brandi Carlile was released last year; it includes ten tracks, some written by Brandi alone, others variously co-written with her two band members, Seattle natives Tim and Phil Hanseroth—also called “The Twins.” While both brothers sing backup vocals, Tim also plays guitar and Phil plays bass. The album features a few different drummers and, on a couple of tracks, strings.

In concert, Brandi opened with a rousing rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Time’s They Are A-Changin’,” which featured vigorous guitar strumming, a strident drumbeat, and powerful heartfelt vocals. Brandi was a down-to-earth and unassuming presence, wearing jeans, high top sneakers and a simple blazer over a t-shirt. Throughout the show Tom and Phil Hanseroth were energetic and positive forces onstage with Brandi, both with shaved heads, tattoos and casual clothes; Phil actually didn’t wear shoes. Also shoeless was a cellist who remained onstage with the band throughout the show. The group was completed by a drummer (one drummer), a New Yorker whose mother we met up on the balcony.

Before the show, I was only familiar with the catchy, rolling tune “Closer to You.” This number, which features only drums and acoustic guitar, moves along at a fast clip, taking the listener on a ride both through the countryside and the singer’s sense of longing. I was willing to go to the city and pay for the show based simply on my knowledge of this addictive song (which I’ve had playing in my car for the past month or so—over and over...); however, I was bowled over by all I heard at the show. The first original song which the band played was “Follow,” which begins slowly and quietly with acoustic guitar and cello but crescendos with Brandi’s gritty, gut-wrenching and multi-octave emoting. Song after song—some on the album, some new—the band continued to thrill me with their energy. Needless to say, I bought the album at the show.

The album: I like it. I like it a lot. However, it is missing some of the intensity of the band’s live performance. I suppose this is to be expected, but some of Brandi’s vocals, which were so powerfully and variously delivered on stage, come off on the album as a bit stylized and “samey” (an adjective made up by a former director of mine, which I have never been able to shake—it’s so useful). Most tracks also do not feature the strings which helped to give the music on stage so much depth. With this said, I still recommend the album highly. “Throw It All Away” is a beautifully haunting piece; “Happy” is a well-crafted, lightly-delivered country song which trips along and hearkens, for me, to the 1970’s; “Tragedy” is a moody tune which has been featured on the show “Grey’s Anatomy.”

For samples of her music, you can go to the Brandi Carlile website, or you can find her on My Space. Perhaps my call for more variety on her album was anticipated: it will be re-released both in stores and online on Tuesday, June 13th. The new version will contain the radio edit of “What Can I Say” (a catchy tune with rich harmonies and steady rhythm) and a new recording of “Throw It All Away”—as well as two bonus tracks, including a live version of “Sixty Years On” (an Elton John song) and “Tragedy (Austin Cello Version).” Brandi and band will be on tour through the end of June; details can be found on the band’s website.

Overall Grade: A-

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