Provocative songs and powerful delivery define Brandi Carlile on In These Silent Days, her follow-up to 2018’s blockbuster By the Way, I Forgive You. Using a similar stripped-down approach that worked so well on that album, Carlile again enlists Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings as co-producers, supported as usual by the Twins – Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who hunkered down during the pandemic with Carlile to pen these ten tunes. Many of the same themes are here as well. There’s plenty of empathy and encouragement, resilience and recovery, confession and forgiveness; and acceptance and faith. Her compassion comes across authentically and few artists can summon the combination of emotive delivery and sheer power like Carlile can.
Adorned in a David Bowie-like outfit on the cover, Carlile attests to the influences of Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Elton John, and Joni Mitchell in these songs. The latter two, somehow, have also become close friends and it’s their influence, at least to this writer (Mercury’s power aside), that underpins these songs – thinking in terms of the early periods of both artists. As you may know, Carlile has even performed Mitchell’s iconic Blue in concert and is slated to do so again at Carnegie Hall in November. This album follows Carlile’s New York Times #1 Best Selling memoir Broken Horses.
Carlile’s backing cast features Carlile (vocals, guitar, piano, organ, synth), Tim Hanseroth (vocals, bass), Phil Hanseroth (vocals, guitar), Dave Cobb (guitar, percussion) Shooter Jennings (piano, organ, synth), Chris Powell (drums, percussion), Josh Neumann (strings) and guests Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessug of Lucius for backing vocals on “You And Me On the Rock.” The production from Cobb and Jennings is superb.
The album begins with the single “Right on Time” with a musical sequence that exemplifies the way several of these tunes unfold. It begins simply with Carlile initially accompanying herself on piano, with bass entering the mix. Her controlled vocal gradually expands, giving us the first notion of her immense power as she hits some impossibly high notes near its close. After setting the tone over the course of the first verse, the instrumentation expands on the second, including drums and guitar. Also, backing vocals join the mix. Her technique of starting minimally and building is a major essence of the sound of this record which can go from stripped-down to grandiose in a flash. The album takes its title from a line in the chorus, in the song about rebuilding a relationship – “It’s not too late / Either way, I lose you in these silent days/ It wasn’t right/But it was right on time.”
“You And Me on the Rock” carries a cheerful, pop groove as Carlile sings with the backing vocalists from Lucius about a prized relationship that means so much – “…I don’t need their money, baby/Just you and me on the rock.” Interestingly, the riff at the end evokes Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi.” “This Time Tomorrow” is a sweet love ballad, tenderly sung and gently accompanied. “Broken Horses” (same title as her memoir) is a true highlight loud, defiant and constantly changing dynamics that build from whispers to anthemic shouts along with the indelible chorus line – “Only broken horses know to run.”
Carlile follows that rocker with a dynamic piano ballad, echoing strains of Elton John in “Letter to the Past,” another on the theme of a meaningful relationship that will not, despite the way it appears, ever be completely lost. “Mama Werewolf” is a metaphorical essay on what we carry inside, defense mechanisms that may be hidden, somehow inherited, but are ultimately seeking out another for real strength. “When You’re Wrong” is a spare acoustic song as if a mother speaking to a child or an elder to a youth – “Someone strong enough to lean on/When the roses fall away/Strong enough to love you/When you’re wrong.” “Stay Gentle” is lullaby-like, the essence of encouragement, again sung beautifully.
Carlile and band rev it up for “Sinners Saints And Fools,” a rather strange perspective wherein the protagonist is read a treatise upon entering heaven, a different view perhaps on “The Good Book” with this as the final verse and the heart of the chorus as Carlile goes out wailing to crashing pianos, feedback-drenched guitars, and swirling strings – “You can’t break the law, there are reasons for the rules/They keep things safe here for everyone/You Sinners, Saints, and Fools/To the poor and huddled masses/Who are hungry and afraid/You gotta do it by the book/And there’ll be no exceptions made.” Carlile goes out Joni Mitchell-like, accompanying herself on piano with just light bass and strings for the ballad “Throwing Good After Bad,” another broken relationship song.
It all adds to yet another triumph for this singular artist, a preeminent voice of our times whose command of vocal and musical dynamics is the perfect complement for both her straightforward and oft ambiguous lyrics.