When an artist records an album live during a short-burst session of 11 intense days, there isn’t a lot of time for obsessing over little things. First thoughts, first breaths, first sounds are all captured immediately, much like a free-form poet who leaves work unedited. Brandi Carlile’s The Story (Columbia Records, 2007) is closer to a live performance than a studio recording. Each song shows an aching reality, slightly tarnished.
“We felt it was more true to what our band does,” Carlile says on the band’s having recorded The Story live to tape.
An artist who’s been on the road since 2005, guitarist and vocalist Carlile peppers her new album with guests like the Indigo Girls on “Cannonball.” Her wisdom-beyond-years persona even landed some of her songs, including “Tragedy” and “Throw It All Away,” on Grey’s Anatomy.
From a musical hometown on the outskirts of Seattle, Carlile began as most female musicians do: a young kid with a guitar and a voice. She wrote “Turpentine” as a teenager, which Grammy Award-winning producer T Bone Burnett (now recording with Hoosier John Mellencamp) refreshed and recorded on The Story. “He’s an engineering genius,” Carlile says.
The young Carlile sang country to find her foundation before finding success. Throatiness with American roots undertones, her song-craft seems effortless at times. “There was never really a defining moment,” she says. “I always felt like I was on the brink of something great.”
Twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth have supported Carlile through their musical ride. With drummer Matt Chamberlain (Tori Amos) and cellist Josh Neumann assisting, the main trio has garnered even greater national attention. The rockers are like family, unified as a band under the singer’s moniker. “Phil jokes, ‘The band that plays together, stays together,’” Carlile says. “So, we’re planning an Alaska fishing trip.”
It’s clear Carlile is not a soloist, she’s the leader of a tight-knit band. And Carlile’s at the forefront with her rural twang that lilts perfectly into bits of yodeling honeydew. The vintage guitar she plays on The Story nurtures feminine perspectives in her roadworthy songs, though she travels on a tour bus “with 10 guys.” Extremes of emotion seemingly make the sophomore effort better than Carlile’s 2005 debut.
Though her lyrics aren’t terribly angular, they’re sweet like blue-collar love. They’re hardworking and steady. “My Song” teases the listener, whereas “Until I Die” brings simple melancholy into the mix. Carlile has something to say in her youth — something down and dirty. But she’s holding back. She’s no fool.
Catch Carlile back in Indy for the second time this year on her VH1 You Oughta Know Tour stop (a series of concerts that supports musicians like Sheryl Crow), presented by WTTS, Oct. 13. “It’s an honor,” Carlile says. “VH1’s giving artists who aren’t ‘mainstream,’ mainstream exposure.”
Meanwhile, the musician adds that while avoiding tour-worthy pranks and wrestling matches with her bandmates, she’s learning to play piano live and hopes to perform a college tour in the near future.