Bear Creek: Carlile’s Biggest Splash

Album Reviews, Features — By on June 28, 2012 6:33 pm

By: Isaac Darnall

For years, Brandi Carlile’s voice has been stopping millions of people dead in
their tracks. It first hit in 2005, wildly ambitious, fresh off the streets of Seattle where it
had been busking overtime to pay the rent. It dared to summon echoes of the superhuman
Matt Belamy—no small feat, but a success by this writer’s estimation—while bringing its
own fierce femininity into the American music scene. Though still in keeping with its
Muse, Carlile’s voice rolled into the contemporary roots/folk movement alongside
legendary producer T Bone Burnett on Carlile’s sophomore album The Story and that’s
where it stuck.

Backed by three-part harmonies, tambourines, pianos, and the musical prowess of
the Hanseroth twins (as it was from day one and still is today), the alliance of rock, pop
and Americana proved invincible. Carlile’s rebellious roar lulled a bit on the very radio-
ready Give Up the Ghost (produced by Rick Rubin), perhaps because Carlile
admittedly “felt like a caged animal in the studio.” But it has quickly (and thankfully)
returned on her latest. What’s most different is that Bear Creek is self-produced.

Carlile and Co. describe their time with legendary producers Burnett and Rubin
as “going to school,” and just like any schoolchildren they were antsy to get out; in
March, 2011 they ran off to Woodinville, WA without the adult supervision they had
had on their first three records. Carlile said the pressure was off: “Without the presence
of Rick or T Bone hanging out in the control room, people felt a lot more comfortable
picking up instruments that we don’t really play.” But Carlile herself was no pushover—
first rule: no smartphones in the studio. Work became so intense that the band quickly
ended up sleeping on site. They spent the first month without a single day off. Finally, the
resulting piece of work dropped on June 5 of this year, debuting higher than any of her
previous albums.

That unmistakable voice is back full force—echoes of Patti Griffin, Sheryl
Crow and Adele are loud and clear, so much so that you have to wonder who influenced
whom. “That Wasn’t Me” (a nod, perhaps, to Lennon/McCartney’s “Let It Be”) is a
tear-jerking ballad placing Carlile in the vocal realm of Alicia Keys. As always, there’s
a consistent pop influence that pairs curiously with rural instruments, including banjo.
Sure, there are a couple of things T Bone would’ve fixed (the opening track, one of her
best, needs a couple more rhythm instruments to cover up the factory bass line). But all in
all, Brandi and the twins prove on Bear Creek that, even un-chaperoned, they are too big
to fail.

1 Comment

  1. Great review. I’ve listened to most of Carlile’s new project, and this piece makes me want to listen again–this time with a more sensitive ear to the influences mentioned here. Plus, I love the background stuff.

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