5 Deep Cuts From Brandi Carlile That You Should Be Listening To

It’s easy to look at the 2019 Grammys as the defining moment for Brandi Carlile. The songstress found seemingly overnight success with nominations for three of the four major awards—Song and Record of the Year for “The Joke” and Album of the Year for By the Way, I Forgive You.

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Though it surely was a highlight for the singer, to call that her breakthrough moment would shortchange a stellar track record in the world of folk rock, which has been glittering since her self-titled debut in 2005.

For years leading up to the fateful Grammys night, the Washingtonian had been turning out delicate folk, rock and Americana left and right—curating a keen songwriting voice that to this day continues to defy conventions and surprise audiences.

To get a better look at the scope of Carlile‘s career, let’s comb through a few lesser-known tracks that deserve to have a moment in the spotlight.

1. “Cannonball

Taken from her lauded sophomore record, The Story, “Cannonball” received a boost from famed film soundtrack producer T Bone Burnett—his other credits include Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?, Walk The Line, and Cold Mountain.

The cinematic and timeless song could find a comfortable home on any one of those soundtracks. With added rich harmonies from the Indigo Girls and light, lilting melody, the song is a highlight on an album that is chock full of imperishable Carlile tunes.

2. “Closer To You

This track is not only a highlight from Carlile’s debut LP but it is also one of her first tracks that hinted at her eventual move toward Americana, rather than singer-songwriter-y folk.

“Closer To You” is a travelogue through and through. She tackles a number of emotions in the track, with longing and loneliness being the core two. The shuffling beat makes it all the more effective a travelin’ song—as evident by its inclusion on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants soundtrack in 2005.

3. “Party Of One

Carlile seems to use her last breath to sing the refrain in “Party Of One,” wearily coaxing out the lyrics, I am tired. It is as if the entirety of By the Way, I Forgive You was recorded in one fell swoop, with Carlile running on empty by the time she gets to this album closer.

Her meticulous songwriting and powerful vocals carry the album home along the expansive swell of strings. Later, she recorded the track as a duet with Sam Smith, but don’t let the flashy guest appearance fool you, the original is the real tour de force.

4. “Mainstream Kid

Though she has a healthy showing of sonic diversity across her albums, Carlile tends to stay away from frenetic, electric tracks. One such rare occasion that she did switch out her brooding folk for something a little more turbulent was “Mainstream Kid” – taken from her LP The Firewatcher’s Daughter.

Though a large part of its draw may be its deviation from the rest of her work, it doesn’t make her wailing vocals and hefty guitar riffs hit any less hard.

5. “Every Time I Hear That Song

Circling back to her 2018 blockbuster album, By the Way, I Forgive You, “The Joke” was the clear standout amongst the record—and rightfully so. The Grammy-nominated track not only showcased her smoky musicality in its top form but, also made room for her powerhouse vocals to shine.

This being said, the entire album is full of glittering moments. The opener, “Every Time I Hear That Song” is one such moment. Sort of a mission statement, as well as a pseudo-title track, it sets the stage for a record that is steeped more heavily in Americana than anything Carlile had done before.

Thanks to production duties from Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings, “Every Time” is the mood setter of the record—and on its own, it remains a good slice of folk with lush harmonies to boot.

Photo by Neil Krug/Sacks&Co

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