The quarantine and isolation of 2020 did not overpower Brandi Carlile. Completely the opposite. Her seventh album, “In These Silent Days,” braves the extremes of Carlile’s songwriting. She empathizes, apologizes and accuses. She is fair and she doubts herself. She offers affectionate lullabies and she utters loud cries. The album reaffirms its ambitions and refines them too.
The music Carlile makes with fellow songwriters and band mates Tim and Phil Hanseroth (on bass and guitar) is reminiscent of the hand-made sounds of 1970s rock. The songs from “In These Silent Days” pay a clear homage to Joni Mitchell (“You and Me on the Rock”) and the Who (“Broken Horses”). Yet Carlile is unmistakably a figure of the 21st century: a married gay mother of two daughters who bypassed the country music establishment to reach her own devout audience.
From the start – Carlile released her debut album, “Brandi Carlile,” in 2005 – her gifts have been evident. She writes melodies that bring drama together as it unfolds, carrying lyrics filled with compassion, keen observation, and sometimes heroic metaphors. Her voice can be crystal clear and confident or fiercely torn as she strategically reveals her surprising range. As early as 2007, with the title track from her second album, “The Story”, Carlile proved that she could sound confessional while leaning on the rafters. There was no denying his emotional power, even if sometimes, on his first albums, it turned into melodrama.
“In These Silent Days” follows the long-deserved recognition Carlile found with her 2018 album, “By the Way, I Forgive You”, and her flagship single, “The Joke”, a grandiose ballad that tells of misfits sensitive that their hour will come. It was nominated for the Grammy for Song of the Year in 2019, and Carlile’s mind-blowing prime-time performance introduced it to a new group of fans.
Carlile chose to share the extra attention. She collaborated on the writing and production of a Grammy comeback album, “While I’m Livin ‘,” for country singer Tanya Tucker, and she formed an Americana alliance, the Highwomen, with Natalie. Hemby, Maren Morris and Amanda Shires. She also performed the entire album “Blue” by Joni Mitchell in Los Angeles, a concert she will present at Carnegie Hall on November 6.
When the pandemic slashed her touring years in 2020, Carlile finished her memoir, “Broken Horses,” and wrote songs with her band members at the compound they share in Washington state. They recorded the new album in Nashville with Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, who also produced “By the Way, I Forgive You”.
“In These Silent Days” consolidates Carlile’s strengths: musical, scriptwriting, kindergarten, political. It opens with his latest ballad centerpiece, “Right on Time,” which pleads for a reunion and a second chance: “You might be angry now – of course you are,” Carlile admits with hesitation. breathless at first, before the song starts. its big rise in the chorus. “It wasn’t good, but it was right on time,” Carlile says, reaching an opera peak and, in the final iteration, leaping from there, perfectly balanced between personal grief and theatrical flamboyance. Within seconds of sound, she becomes both larger than life and painfully human.
“Broken Horses” does not wait for its accumulation. It’s a colorful, non-linear song full of challenge – “I’m a tried and thirsty woman but I will no longer be judged,” Carlile swears – and from the start Carlile’s voice is about to cry out, riding hard string guitars and thundering drums straight out of “Who’s Next”. There are moments of respite in interrupted and sustained harmonies, but Carlile is only scars and fury, as basic as she has ever been.
She makes a more measured rise in “Sinners, Saints and Fools”, with electric guitars and orchestral strings gathering behind her for one final push. The song is a parable about legalism, fundamentalism and immigration; a “God-fearing man” declares “You cannot break the law” and undocumented “desperate souls who have washed up on the sand”, only to be turned away from heaven.
Carlile is equally revealing in quieter songs. She sings to her children in “Stay Gentle”, a collection of singing advice – “Finding joy in the dark is wise / Though they will think you are naive” – and, more sullenly, in “Mama Werewolf” , who calls them to hold her responsible if she becomes destructive: “Be the one, my silver bullet in the gun.”
She carefully twists a knife in “Throwing Good After Bad”, a majestic, pensive but resentful piano ballad about being left behind by someone who would always be “addicted to rushing, hunting, to novelty “. And in “When You’re Wrong,” she sings to an aging friend – “The creases in your forehead run like treads on a tire” – who is trapped in a relationship that “pulls you down for that you are slowly wasting your days “. In Carlile’s songs, she sees human flaws clearly and bluntly, including her own. More often than not, his music finds ways to forgive.
“In these days of silence”
(Low Country Sound / Elektra)