By: Dennis Cook
Widely celebrated, commercially successful debuts often herald disappointing follow-ups. It's a cliché but one backed by plenty of empirical evidence. Thank our lucky stars, Brandi Carlile betters her first by a good margin on this T-Bone Burnett helmed corker.
Created using mostly vintage instruments that sparked something special in the band, The Story (Columbia) goes down ridiculously easy. It's not hard to see how VH1 has latched onto the video for the title tune, though in truth it's one of the weakest tunes here. That's not to say it's bad but it reaches for less than many other cuts. "Turpentine," the track that follows "The Story," captures the hurt and disappointment of a treasured relationship gone sideways. The opening lines are bound to hit home with anyone who's ever stumbled across their past while cleaning up:
I watch you grow away from me in photographs
And memories like spies
And salt betrays my eyes
I started losing sleep and gaining weight
And wishing I was ten again
So I could be your friend again
Carlile's phrasing recalls Patsy Cline with a greater affection for yodeling and howling, her flexible, crazy inviting voice excavating the soul and bones of each song, burrowing below surfaces and beckoning us to accompany her down.
"Have You Ever" and "Late Morning Lullaby" are the definition of irresistible, bright ribbons that ensnare one's heart and lazily shuffling feet. In these moments, Carlile and her collaborators remind one of Iris Dement's early works. "Josephine" has the insight and black and blue lilt of young Dolly Parton. Carlile echoes these greats but with her own flair. When she goes sultry on "Losing Heart" you can hear the fully fleshed woman she's growing into.
Carlile is the rare artist capable of cracking the mainstream without sacrificing substance. The Story makes clear there's depths to this young artist that'll take years to explore.
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