Brandi Carlile's second CD starts with a song that pretty much positions her for the knowing listener. That is, if you like Melissa Etheridge and Rosanne Cash and Emmylou Harris --- smart, sensitive singer-songwriters who can shout as well as whisper --- you're going to like this singer-songwriter too.
That is, she's pleasant. Accomplished. But derivative. And, thus, hardly essential.
The second song --- the title song --- begins. It's written by one of the twin brothers who are Carlile's house band. It rocks a little harder, and then, at 2 minutes and 56 seconds, it returns to its opening:
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to
It's true...I was made for you
And as Brandi Carlile delivers those lines, something happens that I can't recall occurring for donkey's years. The singer doesn't “sing” the first few lines. She explodes out of your speakers. Looks you right in the eye. And flat-out screams.
Do you shiver? I did. And I'm the guy who likes a lot of emotion.
From there on, Brandi Carlile was as necessary to my life as caffeine. “I started losing sleep and gaining weight/And wishing I was ten again/So I could be your friend again.” There's stuff like that in every song.
Thirteen songs. Love songs, all. If, that is, you define love as living in each other's guts, or trying to get there, or wondering why you're not there any more. I adore authenticity, but this is more of it than I'm used to --- to pay attention to every song on this CD is to be forced to compare Carlile's emotional resources with your own.
But this CD is in no way harrowing. Carlile and her friends may slit a vein before they write, but as a piece of music, “The Story” is very pleasing. For every shout there's a gorgeous trill. For every heavy lyric, there's a clever melody. And for every heartache, there's a notion like “Your friends are never gone/if you look to the sky and pray.”
It is entirely possible to listen to Brandi Carlile and think: up-and comer, pleasant voice, nice songs, great in the car and at parties. But for me, when “The Story” starts, the world stops and a woman I'll never meet gets in my face to tell me what love costs. And whatever I'm doing, I honor her with my full attention.