By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Oct 5, 2009
It takes supreme confidence to start a rock concert by stepping in front of the microphone with your band and singing a country number that calls for you to… yodel.
Brandi Carlile is that confident.
And that good.
Make that devastating --- she may be the best female singer now working in rock or country.
At the Beacon Theater in New York, she worked through the songs on her new CD, Give Up the Ghost, and its predecessor, The Story. The flow was organic --- she is one of those talents that arrives fully-formed. The crowd at the Beacon cheered wildly. The arena awaits.
The arena lies ahead because Brandi Carlile has enough vinegar in her voice to clean windows. She can whisper, she can shout --- and she can scream. And when she screams, she cuts through whatever is keeping your heart armored and shatters your defenses. Tasers have nothing on her.
It doesn’t hurt that she’s flanked by two guitarists --- twins, as it turns out --- who are so tall you think they’re on stilts. Or that her drummer is a spiky-haired woman from Brooklyn. Or that, to one side, a cello produces exquisite balance. (On the new CD, she makes do with guests like Elton John.)
And it’s a pleasant bonus that she’s enormously appealing. Between songs, she’s funny and tender and a little surprised by the rising trajectory of her career. But when she straps on an electric guitar, aims it at the audience and starts bouncing around --- that’s something else.
Carlile puts her band through Beatle harmonies. She does Johnny Cash train songs. She makes “Let It Be” sound fresh. She does a song about a high school friend who killed himself that had tears flowing all around me.
And, goofing around, she runs through some country songs that are compellingly bad/good. Among them is “Stand By Your Man,” which contains these lyrics: “And if you love him/ Oh be proud of him/ 'Cause after all he's just a man.” For Tammy Wynette, that was an expression of compassion. For Brandi Carlile’s audience at the Beacon --- I’d say it was 80% female --- that was a punch line.