Brandi Carlile, Larger Than Life and Achingly Human
The quarantine and isolation of 2020 didn’t subdue Brandi Carlile. Just the opposite. Her seventh album, “In These Silent Days,” braves the extremes of Carlile’s songwriting. She empathizes, apologizes and lays out accusations. She’s righteous and she’s self-doubting. She proffers fond lullabies and she unleashes full-throated screams. The album reaffirms her ambitions and polishes them, too.
The music Carlile makes with her songwriting partners and bandmates, Tim and Phil Hanseroth (on bass and guitar), harks back to the handmade sounds of 1970s rock. Songs on “In These Silent Days” pay clear tribute to Joni Mitchell (“You and Me on the Rock”) and the Who (“Broken Horses”). Yet Carlile is unmistakably a 21st-century figure: a gay married mother of two daughters who bypassed the country-music establishment to reach her own fervent audience.
From the beginning — Carlile released her debut album, “Brandi Carlile,” in 2005 — her gifts have been obvious. She writes melodies that gather drama as they unfold, carrying lyrics filled with compassion, close observation and sometimes heroic metaphors. Her voice can be limpid and confiding or fiercely torn as she strategically reveals its startling range. As early as 2007, with the title song of her second album, “The Story,” Carlile proved she could sound confessional while belting to the rafters. There was no denying her emotional power, even though at times, on her early albums, it shaded into melodrama.
“In These Silent Days” follows through on the long-deserved recognition that Carlile found with her 2018 album, “By the Way, I Forgive You,” and its flagship single, “The Joke,” a grandly crescendoing ballad that tells sensitive misfits that their time will come. It was nominated for the Grammy for song of the year in 2019, and Carlile’s showstopping prime-time performance introduced her to a new swath of fans.