It’s been one hell of a three-plus years for Brandi Carlile. Since releasing By The Way, I Forgive You in early 2018. The Washington stater has gone from Americana darling to multiple Grammy winner, festival headliner, best-selling author, co-founder of the Highwomen, and de facto gay spokesperson, and she seems to have reveled in each step along the way – NO ONE in America enjoys her job more than Carlile, and that’s evident in every single live performance. When the shows ended in 2020, she, like most musicians, had to go back to her roots (songwriting) and her touchstones – her wife and daughters. She and longtime bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth crafted a somewhat quieter (and even more introspective) set of tunes for Carlile’s latest, In These Silent Days, giving us an idea of what she discovered during that time away from the life of a touring musician.
The album does, indeed, start off quietly with lead single “Right On Time,” which disguises itself as a piano ballad before unmasking its true nature – soaring vocals, windmill power chords and all. It’s part Elton John, part 90s-vintage loud-quiet-loud rocker (after all, you can take the girl out of Seattle…). Thematically, though, “Right On Time” foreshadows much of In These Silent Days – the strength that Carlile finds in her family: “Turn back time/Help me to rewind, and we can find ourselves again.” There seems to be a conscious effort to take a break from that aforementioned spokesperson role – found most prominently in 2018’s “The Joke” – to look back at what got her and “the twins” here in the first place. “You and Me On The Rock” is a folk-y allusion to the very bedrocks in Carlile’s smaller world – “Me out in my garden/And you out on your walk/Is all the distance this poor girl can take/Without listening to you talk.” Being confined to home hurts, but not as much as being away from it. Buoyed by harmonies from Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig from Lucius, the song’s an easygoing reminder of the little things that kept most of us pushing through a year when the outside world had little to offer.
Like its predecessor, In These Silent Days was co-produced by Nashville go-tos Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, and the arrangements are fairly straightforward and largely free of splashy guest spots – when you have a trio that’s played together this long, there’s little need to fancy it up. The less-is-more approach is most evident in “This Time Tomorrow,” which thrives on the three-part harmonies that continue to stun live audiences. “Broken Horses” is a western epic that opens with piano and acoustic guitar and leads to an impressive solo from Tim Hanseroth, while Carlile sings of aborting caustic family traits – “I will always taste the apathy, but I won’t pass it down/It dies with you.” It is, as usual, Carlile’s voice that’s the instrument that shines brightest – from delicate to forceful, emotional cracks to an outright howl at the end of “When You’re Wrong,” a song of aging, regret and poor choices forced by bad relationships – “You’re sweeping up the floods and you’ve been vacuuming the fires/And you lay down every night next to a goddamn liar.”
Much of the album, in fact, seems to be about drawing a line – Carlile wants to end our worst mistakes, both in society and in her own life. “Sinners, Saints and Fools” takes on the folly of strict religion and anti-immigration – “To the poor and huddled masses who are hungry and afraid/You gotta do it by the book, and there’ll be no exceptions made” (rest assured – the fool in question receives his comeuppance in a dramatic flash of irony). And “Throwing Good After Bad” is a soft piano coda that might be imagined as a retort to the spotlight-grabber who voices “Wind Beneath My Wings.” Singing from the shadows, this song’s narrator acknowledges her partner’s fiercer nature – “You got a beautiful mind/And a soul of a coyote” – but cautions her of the cost of never slowing down – “Hunger driving you mad/Throwing good after bad.” It’s a lesson that Carlile herself – more itinerant than introvert – seems to have learned during so much time at home, and it’s now a reminder that she carries with her on the road.
Song That I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Broken Horses” – surprisingly, Carlile and the band didn’t play much of the new record when I saw her at Red Rocks on September 11, so most of it will be new to all of us next time she comes through town.
In These Silent Days was produced by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, engineered by Brandon Bell, mixed by Tom Elmhurst, Cobb and Jennings, and mastered by Pete Lyman. All songs were written by Brandi Carlile, Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth, with Cobb getting a co-write on “Right on Time.” Additional musicians on the album include Cobb (acoustic guitar, percussion), Jennings (organ, piano, keys, synth), Chris Powell (drums), Josh Neuman (strings) and Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig (backing vocals).
Go here to order In These Silent Days (out October 1st): https://brandicarlile.shop.musictoday.com/dept/music?cp=108094_108563
Check out tour dates here: https://www.brandicarlile.com/tour/