Album Of The Year (Of The Week): Brandi Carlile "The Firewatcher's Daughter"!

Back when Brandi's The Story came out, I literally could not stop playing the album for anyone who would listen.  My girlfriend at the time was into the faux-country scene (Miranda Lambert et al) so, in hopes of showing her that there was more to country music than a bunch of Stepford wives, but not wanting to lay anything too radical on her, I slid the title cut to Carlile's brilliant second album into the car's CD player when she wasn't looking and just waited for lightning to strike.

"Okay, who washed this jacket in hot water?"
The song started innocently enough, a single tremolo guitar and Brandi's plaintively unassuming vocals, then right in the middle of the second line of the second verse, she shifts into a gear that most country singers don't have and I could see my girlfriend out of the corner of my eye bolt upright in her seat.  For the rest of the song, she sat in slack-jawed silence and as the last note faded out, she turned to me, grabbing my arm, and asked "Who the FUCK was that?"

A few weeks later, I did something especially stupid.  Rather than argue, my lady just took off out of the house, slamming the door behind her.  Hours went by and, beginning to worry, I went looking for her.  20 minutes or so later, I found her parked in her car at a scenic overlook not far from our house. I stood and watched for maybe ten minutes as she played "The Story" over and over while gazing upon the lights of Hollywood below her.

There's something about that moment that I found both heartbreaking and beautifully cinematic.  I asked myself "What would Ryan Gosling from 'The Notebook' do?"  As if on-cue, it began to sprinkle.  I could have very easily inserted myself into the scene, walked up to her with a look of apology, and been welcomed into a warm, dry car, but I didn't want to ruin her moment, even after the sprinkle turned to a downpour.

Maybe if I had, we'd still be together and I wouldn't have had to re-buy The Story for the third time in as many relationships.  Of course, Carlile has gone on to release four albums since then, including the new-as-of-yesterday The Firewatcher's Daughter.

As great as The Story had been, subsequent studio albums Give Up The Ghost and Bear Creek failed to hit the mark.  As ambitious as Give Up The Ghost may have been, once again, Rick Rubin's minimalist meddling resulted in a sub-par effort.  Bear Creek saw Carlile team with producer Trina Shoemaker in hopes of righting the ship, commercially speaking, but Carlile wasn't quite ready to play ball.  First single "That Wasn't Me" sounded just a little too much like "Let It Be" for this writer's comfort.  Additionally, as heartfelt as Carlile's singing may have been, one couldn't help feel she was holding back.

Sadly, that's not a problem on Carlile's latest long-player, The Firewatcher's Daughter, her first for new label ATO Records.  Carlile took the label switch as an opportunity to cleanse her mind and soul of the Columbia experience.  It was obvious they had wanted her to be their Sheryl Crow when it would have better for all concerned to simply let her be herself.

Thankfully, ATO gave Brandi and the Twins (longtime musical partners Phil and Tim Hanseroth) the freedom to make the album they wanted to make, which meant recording quickly and keeping some of the loose ends dangling.  Sonically speaking, there isn't much of a difference between this and Give Up The Ghost, but, this time 'round, each song is its own molotov cocktail of sorts, exploding in ways that show the expanding breadth of Carlile's color palette.

That such a sparse-sounding album doesn't eventually start to sound a tad samey after three or four cuts is further proof of the trio firing on all cylinders.  To further test this theory, last night, I slipped "Mainstream Kid" into the CD player in the midst of my current lady's Sleater-Kinney kick and, well, I haven't been able to get my hands on the CD since.  To say that this album has legs would be an understatement, as it only took one play for my first copy to walk off, never to return, I presume.  I will gladly re-buy this one as many times as it takes.

Superior St. Rehearsal Facility

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