Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You

Brandi Carlile - By The Way, I Forgive YouFor her sixth album, Brandi Carlile takes it down a notch, or several, and goes past the heart straight into the soul. The album, aptly titled By The Way, I Forgive You, is about just that. Forgiveness, moving on and laying old feelings to rest.

Across the ten tracks (her shortest album so far) are gentle almost subtle melodies with songs that draw you in and make you relate. Go-to Nashville producer Dave Cobb and country singer/songwriter Shooter Jennings share production on the record giving it a sometimes obvious country kick but subdued enough to keep in line with Brandi’s own output of folk and americana. The verses of Hold Out Your Hand, for example, could be pulled from an old Johnny Cash song while the chorus is straight-up Carlile. The contrast between outlaw country and a bonfire singalong is hard to swallow at first but after a couple listens, it settles in. The Joke, a political song that displays the vulnerability of those forced to sit on the sidelines of society, is the biggest-sounding on the record. A move Cobb intended by pushing Carlile to revisit vocally what made her powerhouse single The Story such a milestone in her discography. It almost works except toward the end, Brandi’s vocals compete with the orchestra, almost drowning her out. Sugartooth plays out in the vain of storytelling classics like Piano Man or American Pie as she sings of a man with a drug problem who was never able to get it together and overdosed. Despite its subject matter, Sugartooth is the catchiest song on the album with its midtempo folkpop melody and its refrain “slave to his sugartooth.”

The album’s true highlights are its bookends, the intro track Every Time I Hear That Song and the finale, Party Of One; songs that reminisce about past difficulties but the desire to settle them away. She forgives an ex in Every Time, expressing sadness that they haven’t been as lucky as she in moving on and finding happiness. Party Of One takes on her thoughts following one argument too many where the end of the relationship seems near. The hoarseness in her voice rings out as she sounds ready to give up until a sudden emotional shift almost literally melts away the uncertainty as she repeats “I am yours” over a very comforting piano, guitar, strings combo. Think of the first four minutes as an ice statue that melts in a warm spring thaw over the last remaining two.

By The Way, I Forgive You is a liberating album that shows incredible focus and drive. It plays better as a whole album rather than individual tracks, perhaps due to the album’s common sound and themes throughout, which are different from any of her past records but not different enough that they would sound out place on a shuffle of her discography.
Five stars

1. Every Time I Hear That Song
2. The Joke
3. Hold Out Your Hand
4. The Mother
5. Whatever You Do
6. Fulton Jane County Doe
7. Sugartooth
8. Most Of All
9. Harder To Forgive
10. Party Of One

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