Street Sounds: Brandi Carlile’s sixth genre bending album burns bright

On The Firewatcher’s Daughter, singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile mixes a woodsy western character with a hard core pre-Nashville vibe.

On her sixth album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile mixes a woodsy western character with a hard core pre-Nashville vibe.

Carlile has salvation, hellfire, dirt and moonshine in her voice, not to mention vulnerability (Heroes and Songs).  She sounds like someone who’s “been there and seen it” and her voice and music get attention, yet there’s an ache in the sound.

The Firewatcher’s Daughter was recorded at Carlile’s Bear Creek, Washington studio with “the twins,” Tim and Phil Hanseroth, her co-writers and longtime bandmates. The two vocalist/multi-instrumentalists are crucial to Carlile’s gritty sound and their harmonies blend intuitively with Carlile’s. The sound has a spooky quality, as all good rockin’ should.

Rock is a strong presence on The Firewatcher’s Daughter, but Carlile’s heart is in many different styles. The unifying character is her emotion and integrity – she isn’t beholden to being a country- rock, pop-folk alterna-indie musician. She can do what she wants and revel in the abandon! But sincerity works for her means.

On Wherever Is Your Heart, a classic sounding acoustic-based track, she balances the simple message with ass-whupping delivery. Like one of her influences, Patsy Cline, Carlile can send a microphone into distortion zone with her wailing.

On The Things I Regret, a typical Carlile song, the backwoods aren’t far from the front door. There’s a rustic presence in the fabric of this song that is felt throughout the others.  This vibe is exploded on rockers like Mainstream Kid and Alibi. It sounds like the group cranked it up in Studio A of Sun Records – basic and primal.

These sounds are tempered by deeper moods where Carlile shows her traditional spirit. The Stranger At My Door is a dark lament with roots deep in the hollows of Appalachia. Beginning to Feel the Years and I Belong to You are simple, finger-picked arrangements that are stirring and direct.  Power and poignancy are ever present in Carlile’s music and the banshee is always in the distance.

Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews new releases for The Morning Star in his column, Street Sounds.