Brandi Carlile - "Bear Creek"

Brandi Carlile teams up with a small group of trusted friends for an album that leans country and highlights her amazing voice and powerful songwriting.

Sit up and pay attention, Brandi Carlile has arrived. You might argue that she already had thanks to her last two releases which were packed with passionate vocals and heartbroken lyrics. Bear Creek makes it official – Carlile has put it all together, the music, the lyrics, the production, and that absolutely amazing voice!

As a young artist Carlile’s songwriting focused on the angst of romance and the wrenching emotions of heartbreak. They were sweet tunes but they lacked the depth of experience that creates original perspectives. Her first album featured glossy pop production that crowded Carlile’s vocals. With each new album Carlile’s skill improved but still the voice that her fans heard in concert seemed inhibited on her recordings. With Bear Creek, which Carlile has referred to as a milestone record, she’s has found her true voice. What you’ll hear is a maturing artist who knows what she wants in the studio and has a message to convey in her music.

Bear Creek takes its title from the studio where it was recorded. Carlile self-produces with the help of a few trusted friends. Co-producer Trina Shoemaker, a protégé of Daniel Lanois, won a Grammy for her engineering and here she directs the technical aspects of the recording. Twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth are Carlile’s long time collaborators, band mates, and co-writers. Not only have they been with her since her teenage years but one is now a brother-in-law. The quartet gathered in April and May of 2011, shortly before Carlile hit her 30th birthday. That event inspired a batch of songs that are her most inspired, personal, and powerful. Here is the deep perspective we’ve been waiting for.

Bear Creek’s opening track “Hard Way Home” sets the mood for the record. There is an earthiness to the song. The pop quality of past recordings is replaced by a raw grittiness that brings out the same quality in the playing and singing. Carlile bares her soul, revealing her struggles with discovering who she wants to be. “Raise Hell” is a country rocker with ripping guitars and an Appalachian mountain mentality. The next two tracks document Carlile’s growth as a writer. “Save Yourself,” a pretty folk ballad, breaks out into joyful handclaps as the singer details her growing understanding of relationships. The album’s centerpiece and first single, “That Wasn’t Me,” is more soulful and offers the kind of introspection that will resonate with anyone who has struggled to come to terms with youthful indiscretions. It may be her best song yet.

Carlile balances the heavy subject matter with sweet nostalgia. “Keep Your Heart Young” is the kind of song Loretta Lynn used to write, as she reminisces about the impact of fatherly advice during childhood. Carlile’s vocals have always grabbed attention. Few singers can match her emotional depth, the way her voice breaks and shatters in critical moments. Bear Creek tones down the extreme drama and plays up nuanced phrasing. These songs deserve that much. Carlile has never written with such poignancy or sung with such refined intensity.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Host)