Brandi Carlile: Give Up the Ghost

Before I get into my review of Brandi Carlile’s new album Give Up the Ghost, I want to share a bit of my personal history with Brandi’s music.

I first became aware of Brandi back in 2005 when my Music Director at Morehead State Public Radio gave me a copy of her self-titled debut. My boss was already pretty excited about the album herself and wanted to make sure I didn’t overlook it when I was checking out that week’s new releases. She didn’t have to worry. After one spin, I was immediately charmed by Brandi’s voice and confident swagger on songs like “What Can I Say” and ” Throw it Away.”

The songwriting was mature, the songs were fully realized, and the sound was huge. The chorus of “Throw it Away” was especially explosive with multiple vocal tracks, a driving backbeat, and a tidal wave of guitars that blended into something Heavenly.
The song that really pulled me in, however, was “Closer to You.” At the time, I lived in Kentucky, and my wife to be lived in Tennessee. I found this song really helped me make it through all of my late night drives to Knoxville. The shuffling drum beat propelled me down the highway in my own attempt to be closer to the one I loved.
Brandi Carlile: Closer to You (Buy Album)

When Brandi’s sophomore album The Story was released in 2007, my wife and I were on vacation in Myrtle Beach. We knew we wanted the album, but weren’t sure where to find it in a strange city. We drove around Myrtle Beach looking for a record store where we could buy a copy. After an unsuccessful search for a local shop, we ended up grabbing a copy at a place I normally avoid… Best Buy. I’m glad we did, because the album quickly became a large part of the soundtrack for our trip.
Soon after, it became part of the soundtrack for a large portion of the country as well when a couple of the tracks for the album were optioned for use in major national advertising campaigns by General Motors (“The Story”) and J.C. Penny (“Have You Ever”). The Story also got a major push from the TV show Grey’s Anatomy. It wasn’t the first time Brandi’s music showed up on Grey’s (three songs from the debut album were used on the show), but this time the show was used as a vehicle to launch the World Premier of Brandi’s new music video. It was a move that helped Brandi reach a larger audience and helped place her firmly in the public consciousness as an artist to be reckoned with.
The standout track here is the title cut. Brandi’s vocal is especially raw and highlights why Paste Magazine recently called Brandi’s the “Best Voice in Indie Rock.” Producer T-Bone Burnett recorded the vocals live in one take and kept some imperfections in the mix that help bring the track to life. Notice the crack in Brandi’s voice during the song’s cathartic climax (just before the 3:00 mark). It adds a notch of vulnerability and helps to ground the track.
Brandi Carlile: The Story (Buy Album)
All of this leads to Brandi’s new record Give Up the Ghost.
Of course, we got this one the day it came out last month, and I’ve listened to it several times since then in an attempt to get a full sense of the album before reviewing it.
The verdict? I like it… quite a lot really. The highlights are plentiful.
We’ll start with the album’s opening track, “Looking Out.” It starts out with Brandi’s trademark acoustic guitar strums and a search for answers…
“And when I asked the corner preacher,
I couldn’t hear him for my youth.
Some people get religion.
Some people get the truth.
I never get the truth.”
The whole thing seems rather ominous and bleak until the chorus comes along to serve as an affirmation and shine a light on the darkness. Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls adds some brightness to the proceedings as well with her wonderful harmony vocals.
Other highlights include guest appearances by Elton John on the rollicking piano driven “Caroline,” Benmont Tench (Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers) on the sombre “Pride and Joy,” and Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith popping up in multiple spots… most noticeably alongside John on “Caroline.” Elton John even loaned his musical collaborator Paul Buckmaster to Brandi for the project. Buckmaster arranged the strings on “Pride & Joy.”
As diverse as the guests are… the music covers a wide spectrum as well. In one four song stretch in the middle of the album things flow from the pop flavored, drum driven single “Dreams” to the delicate “That Year,” a song about the suicide of one of Brandi’s high school friends. From fragile to fabulous, the proceedings then immediately move on to the bouncy “Caroline” and the slow-building arena rocker “Before it Breaks.” Brandi shows tremendous range in both her songwriting and her vocal performance. Expect her to stay on the scene for a while.
I’ll leave you with the opening track from Give Up the Ghost, a song I mentioned earlier, “Looking Out.” I think it’s also worth mentioning that Brandi has started her own charitable foundation called The Looking Out Foundation that raises money for a variety of other charitable groups. Brandi donates one dollar from each concert ticket she sells to the foundation. You can find out more at Brandi’s website.
Brandi Carlile: Looking Out (Buy Album)
Edit: I have removed the mp3 links from this post due to a copyright infringement claim against this post. By the way… I still have the email from Brandi’s record label where I’m given permission to post links to the mp3s and another email where they tell me how much they love the post and thanking me for writing it. Not that any of that matters to the people who keep filing these claims…

3 Responses to “Brandi Carlile: Give Up the Ghost”

  1. I discovered Brandi while watching the Olympics in the Summer of 08. I was completely mesmerized by the song and voice that accompanied the GM commercial (Brandi's “The Story”). I did something I rarely do–I made a mental note to find out who it was performing the song which I did the next day via google. (For some reason, I expected someone older!) I've been enjoying her music ever since. My wife and I saw her live in Alexandria, VA last year–she is fantastic live!

  2. Which Brandi album do you recommend buying first? I don't have any.

  3. Anonymous,

    I think they're all pretty solid, and you can't really go wrong with one or the other. If you really push me though, I'd say just start at the beginning with the self-titled release.

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