Back in 2005, when Brandi Carlile first came on the scene, a DJ friend of mine – knowing my abiding love for female singer/songwriters – told me to take a listen. So, I hit YouTube and found a shaky video of Brandi and Shawn Colvin singing “Calling All Angels” at the Birchmere. Now, I have long-loved Shawn Colvin, but I felt that covering such a sacrosanct song was tantamount to heresy. There’s no way to top the original Jane Siberry/k.d. lang version, so why even go there?!? This artistic trespass led me to discount Brandi without further evidentiary representation.
My initial insouciance toward this young musical upstart came to a screeching halt in 2008 when I went to hang out with the Indigo Girls at a show in San Diego. Upon our meeting, Brandi was quick with a handshake and a smile. I liked her immediately. When she commented on my Kim Richey t-shirt, I liked her even more. Then, she took to the stage. The like turned to love in a matter of 16 bars – at most. Holy crow, the kid could sing!
Two nights later, I caught Brandi’s headlining gig in Santa Barbara and my astonishment with her talent grew even deeper. She owned the stage and charmed the audience like few other performers I’d seen. Really, only k.d. boasts the same blend of vocal prowess and sheer charisma that I saw Brandi wield that night and in every performance thereafter. (So thoroughly smitten, I even participated in the harmony sing-along on “Turpentine” and that’s just not something I do.)
The power of live music is visceral, experiential, and profoundly personal. Not all artists get that. Brandi does. She harnesses that energy, channels it through her performances. Brandi seems to genuinely love everything about entertaining people. It never seems like a job to her, but, rather, a pleasure. All of it. The songs, the collaboration, the travel, the performances, the audiences…
Having collaborated and toured with Brandi, singer/songwriter Gregory Alan Isakov has seen her in action: “It’s a rare thing to see a major label artist playing as many shows as she does a year who still has an undeniably intense passion for music and performing like she does. Her love of music is completely inspiring, her love for her fans. And she works harder than anyone I’ve ever met.” As a result, Brandi’s live recordings stand as testaments, witnesses to her enormous talent, cleanly capturing the deeply soulful – and ever-authentic – essence of her shows and, it seems, herself.
As singer/songwriter Katie Herzig, who has opened for Brandi on several tours, observed, “I had to pinch myself each night, feeling like I was a part of some magical musical history. Brandi is timeless. And her band is among the most generous, hilarious, talented, and inspiring people I’ve met. When you see their live show, you truly are witnessing people doing what they were born to do.”
For Scott Avett, of The Avett Brothers, Brandi’s appeal comes from something he sees lacking in himself: “I spoke with Brandi after some shows together in the South. We were instantly connected through our work ethic and our past. Each looked and sounded similar to the other. I want to know that the people I admire are honest about what they do, that they do it because they mean it; I want to hang out with people like that because I dream to be that way myself. Brandi displays that honesty that I want to be a part of. She means what she says and does, and I look to that with total admiration.”
It’s a rare gem of an artist who wins the approval and adoration of fans, critics, and peers alike. Such is the case, though, with Brandi. The common draw seems to be not her talent, per se. As pleasurable and immense as it is, Brandi’s talent is almost a by-product, a foregone conclusion caused by, as Isakov, Herzig, and Avett alluded, something deeper, something that resonates across time and genre.
Isakov has nothing but praise to lavish upon his musical comrade. He enthused, “Brandi is an artist that completely blows me away. I feel like I’m in a different time period when I hear her sing, a glance at Patsy Cline at the Grand Ole Opry, even Jeff Buckley at times. Or observing something so completely powerful and clear, you can feel that anyone in that theater feels lucky… like you’re seeing something really rare.”
Take a listen to Brandi’s live sampler on NoiseTrade or catch a show, and you’ll understand why Isakov added, “I’ve thought to myself on many occasions, ‘Man, her voice belongs in a museum. She’s an alien, an eighth wonder of the world.’”
Writer Kelly McCartney cites Shaun Cassidy, Kenny Rogers, and Rick James among her early musical loves. These days, she’s more likely to be listening to Josh Garrels, Gillian Welch, and TV on the Radio.