Brandi Carlile – Bear Creek

Since Brandi Carlile put out her latest album on Columbia Records, she’s really not an Indie artist.  But Carlile’s music and overall style really suit the music that we feature on this site.  In some ways she represents success for a lot of the artists that we feature.  It is indeed possible to make authentic singer-songwriter music and “make it” in the industry.  But to get here, Brandi played a lot of less-than-glamorous gigs.  “Looks like I’m taking the hard road home…”

Carlile begins her album with tight background vocals that set the tone for an upbeat jam “Hard Way Home.”  It is in some ways a quintessential country song about the difficulties of life and the ultimate goal of making it home.  It’s a great way to establish the type of album that follows, which is a blend of uncomplicated country music stylings and a feature on Carlile’s own, uniquely-flavored vocals.

In “Raise Hell” Carlile explicitly makes her voice sound rough and the sound is full of minor chords for a tough song.  It seems to channel elements of the Johnny Cash sound, all while remaining palatable for the consumer audience.  Sorry Brandi if this is an insult, but it kind of put me in the mind of the chords and flavor on “Riders in the Sky.”

“Save Part of Yourself” changes the direction of the album.  It is quaint, beautiful, soft, and calming.  “Save part of yourself for me.”  The middle of the song transitions to a clapping part, but the beginning of the track’s simplicity and fingerpicking represents Carlile at her best.  Instead of the studio-perfected background vocals I’d love to hear this tune with real raw, authentic vocal blending.  The song itself is sweet and intriguing.  It should garner some awesome covers in the coming years.

Brandi’s song “Keep Your Heart Young” is one of the best original country songs I’ve heard in probably ten years.  It doesn’t have that cheesy awkwardness of the top 40.  It has an intriguing blend of nostalgic memories of childhood interactions and the gritty resolve of country folk.  “Keep your heart young… don’t growin’ old before your time has come… you can’t take back what you have done… you gotta keep your heart young.”  Musically it’s stripped down in just the right ways with a feature on Brandi at lead, but the traditional country instruments and background vocals make it the best song on the album without a close second.

“I’ve been gone for so long… how I’ve missed you… my heart was aching for home.”   The opening line from “What Did I Ever Come Here For” is a song most likely inspired by the road.  It’s about having a dream about someone from home saying her name as she slept.  It’s sweet and familiar.  The sonic structure is deceivingly complex; with some parts seemingly just the band with a guitar, and other parts highlighting strings.  It borders on over produced, but is overall a well-written song.

To summarize my thoughts on this album I’d say that Brandi Carlile is a stunningly-good country song writer.  Her songs have a “mood” to them that’s really good.  I think I’d prefer to hear her in the middle of a stage with an acoustic guitar and a single spot… but that might just be personal preference.  There’s an authenticity in her sound that translates well on some songs on Bear Creek but not all.  There’s not a good artist to compare her to in the top 40 because she’s much more genuine than the popular country artists out there.  Fans of classic country will like several of the songs on this album, especially “Keep Your Heart Young” and “Save Part of Yourself.”

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