"Brandi Carlile's Bear Creek is instant Carlile Classic", says KINK Community reviewer, Cynthia Orlando.
In the off-chance you've been hibernating or out of the country, folk-rocker Brandi Carlile's back with her 5th full-length CD, "Bear Creek." As with past recordings, most all of the songs are written jointly by Carlile and "the twins" - guitarists Phil and Tim Hanseroth. And with one impressive track after another, it's her best effort yet.
She quickly gets things warmed up with a blast from a train whistle and a story about the school of hard knocks on "Hard Way Home," a fun, catchy thigh-slapper of a song. The chorus is a sad one ("Oooh, follow my tracks / See all the times I shoulda turned back / Oooh, I wept alone / I know what it means to be on my own"), but Brandi being Brandi, she manages to keep things light, engaging and encouraging. And while historically she's straddled that folk-rock genre, this is a track any country star could cover…it's stunning songwriting she makes look oh-so-easy.
Get ready though, 'cause next she offers up the raucous country-blues feel of "Raise Hell," sounding far more like a Johnny Cash classic (sung by an angel, of course), then something newly minted. Electric guitar, banjo, and percussion stomp together to deliver a great knock-out punch. We can already hear the fans hollering for more.
"Save Part of Yourself" is classic lovelorn Brandi, taking a long, slow look-back at someone dearly missed, singing between-the-lines about yearning, memories, things left unsaid. Nice mandolin touches, too. And while some might not view it as a standout track (after all, Brandi sets such a high bar for herself), the sentiment here shines through so brightly it just might become a fan-favorite.
Brandi Carlile has always had a natural, effortless way of singing that resonates; hers is the kind of voice that could make "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" a memorable powerhouse of a song. So when she tackles something as deeply moving as the confessional "That Wasn't Me," she's that much more amazing. Carlile describes it as "a deeply personal song" about addiction and forgiveness. With her vocals against piano and drums and a touch of gospel chorus throughout, it's a great track.
Not sure about you, but personally I've been waiting a while for a new release by a woman artist I could really relate to. No, Nicki Minaj doesn't do it for me, Florence and the Machine just sound like death singing from the bottom of a tunnel. Thank you Brandi for making my day.
"Keep Your Heart Young" is always great advice in general, but in this case it's also another standout track likely to be covered by other artists, given time. The lyrics: "My grandpa gave me a wheat penny / and I put it in my pocket / Had big plans in my backyard / to build me a space rocket" are colorful, folksy and fun. An acoustic guitar, a little mandolin and Brandi's voice - you get the feeling you're talking over a backyard fence to someone about their childhood.
Still making great music to her heart's content
The disclosure and disappointment of "What Did I Ever Come Here For" is heart-wrenching, yet with that mysterious Carlile ingredient we can't quite put our finger on, it's also cathartic. Happily she follows this with lighthearted piano that opens her playful "Hearts Content" - sharing each note like a kid pulling toys out of a toy box, and never sounding more pleased, spontaneous and joyful. Recently Carlile said in an interview that band members holed up in the recording studio without much oversight so that they could really let their creative juices flow. Seems to have worked incredibly well, so studio musicians take heed: let your inner kid out.
Can it get better? Possibly. The band rocks out wonderfully and mightily on "Rise Again," harkening back to days of "The Story" but with a fuller guitar sound all the way through you'll love. This one grows on you pretty quickly. Could it be the next single to make the airwaves? Only time will tell.
Bear Creek's last track, the melodious, haunting "Just Kids," closes things out perfectly, making us tear up and smile at the same time. It has a full, symphonic sound that calls us back to another time, another place, the kind of impact that could quite possibly be used in a movie soundtrack. As the melody fades we hear the magical sound of frogs croaking in the background, but the overall feeling is reflection and of trying to re-write the past. For a musician just 31 years old, Carlile sure does bring a lot of depth into the music scene.
Vocalizations are crystal clear, and instrumentation - whether full or sparse - seems to flow effortlessly throughout these 13 tracks. The album was named after Bear Creek Studios in Seattle where it was recorded. Must have been a fun record to make, and… we almost feel like we were there with her.
Just another "keeper," big-time, from Brandi Carlile.
Check out Brandi's website. And Brandi in the BING, for a close-up look.