Friday, July 15, 2011

Alt Disney World: Brandi Carlile

These three are even sexier with guitars in their hands,
believe it or not.
I have been a huge fan of Brandi Carlile for a few years now. I saw her do a gig in a small club supporting her first major label album, Brandi Carlile, back in 2005. She writes with the Hanseroth twins, who are the tall, talented, bald, handsome devils who play at all of her gigs with her. The show was intimate, acoustic, and one of the most stunning live sets I've ever seen. Just Brandi, the twins and an hour of the most exciting live performance I had seen in forever. I knew then and there that I was witnessing something special.

They did songs from the first album and covered "Hallelujah", which is a bold move. Usually when someone performs that song all you do is think about how you wish you were listening to Jeff Buckley sing it. When Brandi sang it, all I thought about was how grateful I was to be there, in that moment, watching an incredibly talented artist on the ascent.

Brandi is not only an amazing singer, but also a stellar songwriter, writing or co-writing every song on the disc. Her musical style has it roots in classic rock, blues, folk and country, blending them all into a chunky stew of sound that is all her own. Also, she has been out of the closet since she started her career, focusing press more on her music and making her personal life a non-issue, but admitting that she hopes to be an out gay role model for the next generation as the Indigo Girls and Elton John were to her. And me for that matter. She is just a year younger than I am and has been influenced by a lot of the same musicians and role models as me over the years.

Her first album, like all of them, is pretty spectacular. I would be hard pressed to choose a favorite track, but I am quite fond of "Closer to You", which shows her more funky, bouncy, lighthearted side.

Her second album, The Story, got a good bit of attention because it's title track was featured prominently in Grey's Anatomy. The yearning tune is kind of astounding. I have heard this track butchered by many who don't posses the right mix of power, emotion and openness to pull it off. I'm talking to you, American Idol contestants. Leave it alone, ok?

Also on this album is a great hidden track, "Hiding My Heart". It is heartbreakingly lovely.

Just for compare and contrast, and because I heart her, here is a fantastic cover that Adele did as a b-side. Y'all know I'm a huge ole Adele geek, but I must say that I give Brandi the (slight) edge here. She has a certain weathered quality to her voice that adds to the aching quality of the song. But dang, Adele can sing pretty much anything, can't she?

Her third album, Giving Up the Ghost, is more of the same, which is a very good thing. She has a distinct musical voice and is an artist who knows better than to stray too terribly far from it. The music that she makes sounds both old fashioned and fresh, owing to her affinity for time-tested musical styles and her fresh take on them. I have fond memories of the song "Dying Day" because when I saw her perform live on a double bill with the Indigo Girls (my little Lilith Fair loving gay boy heart damn near exploded from the sheer awesomeness of that evening) in Tallahassee, my hometown, she and her band came down to the edge of the stage and did the whole song acoustically- completely sans amplification. The song, and her powerful voice particularly, filled the venue, which was holding probably around 1,000 people. Even though it was unplugged, it was electrifying. You can catch a glimpse of them doing this in a live venue during the video for the song.

Also on this album is a fantastic song called "Dreams". When Disney was doing promotion for Tangled, which was the 50th full length animated feature from the studio, they released this video, using Brandi's song, to both pay tribute the past and build excitement for the new addition to the canon.

When I watched the video, I was a little bit amazed. The first time I saw it, I got rather weepy, which shouldn't be too surprising. As the video swept over me, I was genuinely moved. I watched pieces of my life flash before my eyes and was overwhelmed by the breadth and quality of the Disney animated catalogue. Then, like the Disney dork I admittedly am, I watched again to see how many I could name off the top of my head.

At that point, it started to sink in that part of the reason that the clip is so powerful really is the song. The steady drum that pounds like a heartbeat. The soft, playful beginning that crescendos into an exuberant celebration and then slows itself back down to a sweet denouement. It tells it's own two minute story. The editing is brilliant, matching the clips to the feel of the song beautifully. The repetition of the word "dream" in the song is also key. Dreams have been a Disney staple from "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes" all the way through the new Disney Dream cruise ship. Whoever came up with the brilliant idea to pair the emotional power of Brandi Carlile with this Disney retrospective is a flat-out genius.

The tattoo on her arm? AURYN from
The Neverending Story. Hot, huh?
If you enjoy Brandi's music, which you must, since I consider you all friends and no friend of mine doesn't love her, you should check out her new album, Live At Benaroya Hall With the Seattle Symphony. As fantastic as her albums are, Brandi really shines live and this live album really captures a performance beautifully. Plus, she's backed by a symphony, which really makes you feel the scope of the music that she's making. Strings make everything better. It'll knock your socks off, I promise.

It also captures one of my favorite moments from her live show, which is during her performance of "Turpentine" from The Story. She leads the audience in a sing along, which is often nothing short of annoying, but when she gleefully gets a thousand people to sing in three part harmony, it is really one of the most amazing things I've ever experienced at a live show and it's wonderfully captured on this CD. You can tell how much joy Brandi gets from feeding off of an audience's energy.

What do you think of Ms. Carlile? Are you now a convert or have I been preaching to the choir? What other artists have surprised you in a good way when they've popped up in something Disney-related?

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