Monday, June 20, 2016

Music Review - Brandi Carlile - Firewatcher's Daughter

It turns out that these songs didn't grow on me. When they came up on shuffle play on my MP3 player I kept finding myself hitting the skip button. Better luck next time, Ms. Carlile.

At first blush I didn’t care much for The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi Carlile’s first album after leaving a major label deal and going indie. I found the choruses to be repetitive and the lyrics a bit thin. It’s one thing when an artist is exorcising their demons and you’re allowed along for the ride and another when the artist has made it through the woods and intentionally writes songs to help others. Which is to say that on her first few albums the lyrics seemed more genuine and now they seem to be full of sincere yet flat encouragements. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but it’s not a great thing.

But that was “first blush.” It was this past weekend, as I found the melodies in my head of Firewatcher songs I previously thought were tepid, that I wondered if perhaps this album was a grower. You know, one of those albums that takes more listens than normal to get into but once you “get it” it stays gotten for a long time.

So what’s on Daughter? The first song, “Wherever Is Your Heart” has exactly the faults I mentioned above, a very poor first impression, so much so that I initially failed to notice the amazingly tight vocal harmonies of “The Eye”, a Fleetwood Mac with old-school country song centered around the line "You can dance in the hurricane / But only if you're standing in the eye." Another memorable ballad is the beautifully melancholy “Beginning to Feel the Years” which focuses on the bond of parent and child (“Maybe I was meant to be under your lock and key”.) None of the other slower songs did much for me, sounding like pretty standard Carlile ballads.

Three of the four rockers, though, provide a solid backbone. The reckless “Mainstream Kid” is about as good as it gets, three parts ballsy rock and one part country with Brandi belting out lyrics like “I need someone to tell me who I am” before a scorching guitar solo burns down the barn. The nostalgic “Blood Muscle Skin & Bones” has hints of 80s pop and cowbell in the chorus. Serious amounts of cowbell that toe the line of acceptable cow bellage. Fun and raucous, “Alibi” is one of the strongest on the album, pummeling along with rockabilly roots and wry lyrics like “If you’re good at telling lies / You could be my alibi / And I won’t take the fall for where I’ve been.” Show of hands: who else wants a Carlile album of just rock songs? While not as consistent as her earlier albums, The Firewatcher’s Daughter has more than its fair share of good songs. Time will tell if these “good” songs are just that or if they are exceptionally humble “great” songs that only flower over a period of months.

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