Whenever Brandi Carlile releases a new record, for me it’s a major event. She’s not yet a household name, despite her consistency and increasing presence on the folk music scene in America, but she’s made some inroads over the years, working with some major producers, having Elton John duet with her on an album, and now earning her second Top 10 album on the Billboard 200 album chart. Also impressively, she’s yet to record a bad song.
The Firewatcher’s Daughter is Brandi’s first album away from a major label since signing with Columbia for her debut almost ten years ago. Each of her last four albums gradually showed more of who she is as she settled in as a singer, songwriter and person — with continued assistance from the Hanseroth twins, who have their fair share of songwriting contributions.
With this album, her first on Dave Matthews‘ ATO Records, she’s showing new sides, opening herself up with a more versatile sound and dropping surprises along the way.
The most likely draw of this attention is Mainstream Kid, a tongue-in-cheek punk-rock jam about fitting in with groupthink that has Brandi belting “I need someone to tell me who I am.” If one of her songs ever became an anthem, it would be this one, where fans can sing along in unison, “hold my fist into the air/declare a social victory.”
Other pleasant surprises include closing track Murder In The City, an Avett Brothers cover that Brandi beautifully makes her own, adjusting the lyrics to mention — for the first time — her wife and their daughter, “make sure my wife knows I love her/make sure my daughter knows the same.” The Eye, which originally dropped back in December, uses three-part harmonies from Brandi and the twins, and is one of the most striking tracks they’ve ever recorded.
Beyond the trio’s ability to write undeniable hooks that has become most apparent on this record, they still stay true to the sound they’ve honed over the years, while providing introspective advice and perspective throughout.
On The Things I Regret, Brandi sings “when you’re wearing on your sleeve all the things you regret/you can only remember what you want to forget,” in a song that sounds fittingly like a recording from Bear Creek.
Wilder (We’re Chained) and I Belong To You return to pleasantly familiar territory in songs that capture that same emotional wisdom that’s always been present on her albums. The latter relying on musical contrast to give it a towering ending with just some light percussion and stringed instruments accompanying Brandi’s guitar.
Heroes And Songs is a sombre continuation of songs like That Year, where she finally sees herself moving beyond the passing of a close friend, “I love you my friend/my dear means to an end/but you’re not in my dreams anymore.”
With The Firewatcher’s Daughter, Brandi continues her streak of being yet to record a poor song. The album is adventurous but it stays within the realms of her capabilities, expanding on her sound just enough. I’d hesitate to list it as surpassing Bear Creek, which I consider her best album, but being the well-rounded record it is, I would recommend The Firewatcher’s Daughter as the ideal starting point for anyone new to Brandi.
1. Wherever Is Your Heart
2. The Eye
3. The Things I Regret
4. Mainstream Kid
5. Beginning To Feel The Years
6. Wilder (We’re Chained)
7. Blood Muscle Skin & Bone
8. I Belong To You
10. The Stranger At My Door
11. Heroes And Songs
12. Murder In The City