CD REVIEW: Brandi Carlile Page 2
That said, The Story gives cause for a few concerns. First, it seems that Carlile had trouble coming up with genuinely new material for her new album. "Shadow on the Wall" is another track updated from the Acoustic EP. "Again Today" is from 2002, "Wasted" is from 2001, and "Turpentine," "My Song," and "Until I Die" hark all the way back to 2000. Subtract those six songs and the two written solely by Twin Phil (including the title track, itself five years old) from the album's 13 numbers (not including the hidden "Hiding My Heart"), and we're left with only five post-debut songs written or co-written by Carlile. As the old adage goes: You get your whole life to write your first album but only a year or two to write your second.
Another warning sign: a bit of sameyness in some of the arrangements. The debut's "Follow" built to a louder section with a chug-chug-chug-chug rhythm - but at least the buildup felt natural. On The Story, a big handful of songs do the chug-chug, to the point where three of them - the title track, "My Song," and "Until I Die" - come perilously close to being sound-alikes. The worst offender is the title track, where the chug chews into the song mid-verse. Many, including Carlile herself, have indicated how this sound reflects what her press release calls the "raw and roadworthy intensity" of her concerts - as does the way her voice cracks before the title track's final section. This is all well and good; hey, I'm the last person to knock the rock. But when it seems too cookie-cutter - and when it often seems to ring false for this singer/songwriter (and folks, there's no shame in being called a "singer/songwriter") - it's worth questioning. Brandi Carlile, after all, is no Melissa Etheridge (to name one voice-cracking gal). Nor should she be.
One more thing: That little country-style skip in Carlile's voice, where she'll suddenly leap nearly an octave to a fading falsetto, is indeed part of what makes her singing so appealing. But it should be used sparingly. Someone needs to tell her that today's trademark can become tomorrow's mannerism.
Make no mistake, these concerns should be read as the very definition of constructive criticism. That's because Brandi Carlile is a singular artist worth investing in for the long haul. And no matter who wrote what when, or how it is played and sung, The Story has plenty of stellar material to keep the album from dipping into the dreaded sophomore slump. Now, if Columbia can just leave her alone for a while, giving her some time to write, it's likely that her third album will not just fulfill again the promise of that SXSW night but also regale us with music and stories that neither she nor we might have expected from her.