Album Review – Brandi Carlile's
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Photo: Neil Krug

We almost forgot what an outstanding generation talent Brandi Carlile is. Almost. Since she had to wait nearly four years since her last original studio recording, and she was so busy with The Highwomen and setting her name on as a producer on projects for others, we should remember how spectacular her solo work can be. and how powerful of a singer she is.

It takes seconds, not minutes, on this new album to take for granted the brilliance of writing and power of achievement that Brandi Carlile praises. An internal dialogue immediately begins in the listener about whether Carlile is one of the best singers in the roots area, for this generation or any other generation. Time and again, the music delivers “moments” in which the soul moves, and it reminds us of why it rose to the summit in the roots discipline and has stayed there for around 15 years.

We weren't sure what to expect from this new record. Unlike most albums of the era, In These Silent Days was preceded by less than half a dozen singles that wear off the new-car smell of a record before you even drive it out of the showroom. "Right On Time" was the only early track that quickly reminded us of what Brandi Carlile is capable of, but as a kind of flimsy piano ballad we wondered if we should arm ourselves for a lounge record rather than something more rooted, or for something completely different.

In These Silent Days you don't really put yourself in any genre. It continues Carlile's slow transition away from more country and roots material, although it still feels very authentic and grounded. Ultimately, it's one of those records where the strength of the material renders discussions of genre or style irrelevant. Just call it "Americana" and move on.

Carlile used her free time during the pandemic to write her memoirs to ponder the gifts in her life, especially her partner Catherine Shepherd, who is, so to speak, the unnamed protagonist of this album. Her two daughters also become inspiration for songs. In These Silent Days is a strikingly personal work by Carlile, while each track conveys some wisdom that makes it resonate deeper than just Carlile's personal universe.

Right On Time and When You're Wrong remind you that love is never perfect. It is far from that. But if it's right then it lasts and it takes work. Sometimes it's more important than being right, admitting when you're wrong, and expressing the vulnerability of being dependent on someone else. “Mama Werewolf” is Brandi's endeavor to explain her true nature to her children as she seeks to share a simple lesson with them on “Stay Gentle” – one that we can all benefit from.

While some used the pandemic as an excuse to release acoustic tracks, rethink old material, or make other unimaginable efforts just to stay busy, Brandi Carlile used the time to refine what would come next, about the slump Avoiding the album in the middle of the career many fall victim. To rewrite and re-enact everything with their twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth, and to work with Dave Cobb as producer, there was an intimacy and comfort between all parties and a philosophy of not fixing anything that wasn't broken. But there was also a focus on not being satisfied, staying hungry and restless, and continuing to push and challenge yourself.

Perhaps most notably, after nearly two decades of her career, Brandi Carlile is always finding new contours, richer textures, interesting folds, and higher ranges for her voice, and is able to write songs to both capture and highlight these skills. Perhaps age and wear and tear have even crept into their sound quality to some extent. But instead of using this as an excuse to move to a more rigorous approach to her singing, she hugs it like Emmylou Harris and understands that squeezing a voice to the point where it fails is where the most intense Emotions are captured while Dave Cobb did a little audio magic with volume and reverb to create some truly incredible moments on this record with Carlile's voice at its center.

Yes, In These Silent Days' roots are probably the least pronounced in Brandi Carlile's career. And like so many "Americana" artists these days, the mere mention of their name will attract strong opinions from independent country fans who like to sniff Americana too, but aren't always happy with how outspoken the artists are.

But that's not a political record. And unlike some other artists who might ask you to look beyond their prickly personality traits and mood swings, Brandi Carlile at least still delivers on the musical side. One of the few times Carlile brings up a subject beyond her own family circle is "Sinners, Saints, and Fools," a well-written and inspired phrase about the ongoing immigration struggle in America. And, as we have seen in the past few months, no particular political orientation owns the anger on this issue. They all do.

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Brandi Carlile's producer efforts on Tanya Tucker's 2019 comeback album While I'm Livin 'were okay, but recording Tanya's songs Brandi wrote for her rather than finding the best material spoiled the experience for some. The Highwomen record was historic for many reasons, but Brandi's specific decision to mix all vocals in mono made for a less than ideal listening experience. Maybe producing isn't their forte. Of course, if Brandi Carlile just coughs into a microphone it could win three Grammy Awards, so who should say that?

But Brandi Carlile will also remember these sideline activities. It is their own music that has shaped and continues to shape her legacy. In These Silent Days, there is a strong, inspired, challenging, driving, and ultimately compelling argument for Brandi Carlile continuing her role as the lead actress in modern Americana.


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