A lot has changed for Brandi Carlile since she released her last album, Bear Creek, in 2012. Professionally, she left her major label deal with Sony for a new home on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. Personally, she’s married and has a child. Perhaps the biggest change, though, can be found in Carlile’s music. For her fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, the artist approached the songwriting and production more organically. The result is a collection of songs anchored by the rich storytelling we’ve to expect from Brandi Carlile and her band, as well as a sense of freedom expressed through some of the most unhinged, blatantly rock and roll songs of her career.
Our first taste of new music came in the form of “The Eye.” With a Rumors-era Fleetwood Mac guitar and lush three-part harmonies, the song has a retro country feel at which Carlile excels, and the harmonies are tighter than ever. Those harmonies, of course, come courtesy of “The Twins,” Tim and Phil Hanseroth. Press for The Firewatcher’s Daughter revealed that they too have started families of their own since their last outing with Carlile. This new outlook makes the record feel more like a group effort than any of Carlile’s preceding efforts. Just listen to “Wilder (We’re Chained)”, a song with a palpable wisdom about appreciating unconditional bonds. “We’re chained / and when everything else changes / our love will stay the same.”
With her live shows, Carlile tends to rank up the volume louder than she does on her studio recordings. Having previously covered such rock classics during her shows like “Creep” and “Folsom Prison Blues,” The Firewatchter’s Daughter sees Carlile loosening the reigns on some of her own roaring guitar tunes. Take the storming “Mainstream Kid,” for example. Carlile sings through a fuzzed out filter from the perspective of a egomaniac rock star. One can’t help but hear the echoes of her internal struggle to create art in her own space versus operating under major label demands. Musically, the song builds into a wall of electric fury and barnyard claps. Likewise, “Alibi” has a swagger and attitude Carlile only hinted at before.
Anybody who’s heard any of Brandi Carlile’s albums knows she excels at gut-wrenching, downtempo numbers. Thankfully, The Firewatcher’s Daughter has a few of those as well. The standout is definitely “I Belong To You,” one of the most heartfelt ballads Carlile has put her name to. The song is packed with melancholy and wistfulness, perfectly capturing the devotion one feels to someone they love: “I know I could be spending a little too much time with you / but time and too much don’t belong together like we do.” Its sentimental counterpart, “Beginning to Feel The Years,” comes at a natural part of her career and her life, where she’s looking back and looking ahead.
Because this album doesn’t bend to the demands of things like accessibility and obvious first singles, this may be a tougher record for some to connect with right away. The Firewatcher’s Daughter takes repeated listens to appreciate its many subtleties, such minimal orchestration and gospel harmonies on “Murder In The City.” However, once you ear takes notice, it’s impossible to deny the refined beauty Brandi Carlile masters and continually captures with her music.