The sticker affixed to the initial pressings of Brandi Carlile's eponymous 2005 major-label debut trumpet that the singer/songwriter is an "artist to watch" by Rolling Stone, Interview, and Paste. Those accolades, combined with cover artwork that captures her at her cutest -- as if she were a cousin of Rachael Leigh Cook -- might make some listeners suspicious of Carlile, since the cumulative effect makes her seem like a pretty, prepackaged creation. One listen to her absolutely terrific debut immediately dispels these notions. From the moment "Follow" seeps out of the speakers, it's clear that Carlile isn't a prefabricated pop star. For starters, she's a powerful, captivating vocalist, clearly influenced by Jeff Buckley, but lacking the mannered theatrical histrionics that could occasionally creep into his work. She's quieter and intimate, slowly pulling listeners into her tales of love and loss. While her words and topics may not be bracing, her music is: it's rich, warm, and seductive, familiar in its form and sound, yet sounding fresh, even original, particularly in how her folky singer/songwriter foundation blends with her art-pop inclinations. Her music ebbs and flows with long, languid melodies, strummed acoustic guitars, and her surging vocals, creating an album that's ideal for introspective, late-night listening. Carlile is supported by guitarist Tim Hanseroth and his bassist twin brother Phil (they're billed as "The Twins" in the production credits for the album), and they're not mere support, they're collaborators, co-writing several songs (Tim writes "What Can I Say" on his own), and giving the album the graceful, liquid musicality that makes it such a rewarding, addictive listen. The best thing about Brandi Carlile is that it not only doesn't sound like a debut, it sounds like a record that exists out of time and place -- which means it's not only a superb debut, it's a hell of a record by any measure.
© Stephen Thomas Erlewine /TiVo