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 you’re not going to find too much of 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 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,” she 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 wife Catherine Shepherd as the mothers of daughter Evangeline (the couple just welcomed their second child last month) with matter-of-fact couplets in the hypnotically acoustic tune “The Mother” that 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.”
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 outro “Party of One,” in which the singer-songwriter lays her soul bare as the arranger’s string arrangements 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 2009’s 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 shared. “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.”
As grand sounding 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.
“It’ll be different than anyone who’s seen me before. I’m doing a much longer set—I’m doing the entire album with a lot of other songs too—a lot of stuff from Give Up the Ghost, Bear Creek and one or two from Brandi Carlile and The Story,” she explained. “Less from The Story than ever because I just did The Story Tour. I’ve also got a couple of new covers—Elton John and Led Zeppelin. 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.”