Album Review – Brandi Carlile’s “By The Way, I Forgive You”

photo: David McClister

How in the world is it that here in the Year of Our Lord 2018, Brandi Carlile is still not considered a household name? All this woman has done over the last number of years is release records featuring terrific song craft and composition, exquisite harmonies from her and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth), and deliver a sound that traverses folk, country, and rock in a good way, endearing itself to most everyone, and with a respect for the music that doesn’t alienate anyone.

On her new album By The Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlile is aided and abetted by Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings in her effort to turn in an inspired and progressive work that once again makes ample arguments for her inclusion in the top most class of folk rockers. People are already talking about her song “The Joke” as being one of the best in its annual class, and why not with its swooning melody and emotional acrobatics embellished with strings and uplifting wisdom. It’s one of those songs that doesn’t just deliver audio enjoyment, it changes people.

But that’s just where Brandi Carlile starts on this latest record. “The Mother” includes just as much wisdom and insight as “The Joke,” even if it’s free of the sweeping soundscape as an acoustic ballad. Brandi Carlile just has that gift for poetic expressionism derived from insight into life. Many songs have been sung from parent to child, but what Bandi Carlile does with “The Mother” is delve into how being a parent resolves the inherent selfishness in ourselves like nothing else.

Then she goes from cannonizing something very personal to her, to singing the praises of a complete stranger in “Fulton County Jane Doe,” and humanizing the addict of today in “Sugartooth.” Brandi Carlile has been writing songs for too long to be able continue put out stuff of this caliber and quality consistently, but here she is doing it again.

The Album art is an original painting by Scott Avett of The Avett Brothers

She warned us early on that sonically, By The Way, I Forgive You might be her most expansive and forward-thinking yet, but don’t be concerned this means synthesizers and drum machines will make their way into the mix as if often does these days. To some—including Carlile apparently—“forward-thinking and expansive” still means doing things that stoke the imagination instead of stultifying it, like adding string arrangements and complex compositions that may not be as immediately palatable as a catchy beat, but end up delivering a more enveloping experience to the enlightened listener.

That said, By The Way, I Forgive You might suffer just a bit from a lack of sonic direction. Despite Carlile’s skills with country, folk, and Gospel being one of her strong suits, this record fails somewhat to make one solid impression sonically, or to stoke the roots vibes like previous efforts by limiting the effort on harmony and twang. Though it’s an involved record compositionally, By The Way doesn’t really make any discernible impression musically to give the tastiness you look for in a project. Instead it feels a bit like just a general rock approach. You also might find yourself wanting more vocally from Tim and Phil Hanseroth, who are so vital to extruding the magic from what Brandi Carlile does. Then there’s the song “Hold Out Your Hand,” which is well written, but really suffers from the frenetic and disjointed approach, even though it was likely intentional.

But the songs and Brandi Carlile’s voice is what you come here for, and she delivers her fair share and more of moments that you cherish, remember, and repeat on your listening device as soon as they’re over because they’re just so damn good.

We don’t need to look to the left and the right and wonder where all the great women of country and roots are. They’re right under our noses and in plain sight, releasing records like By The Way, I Forgive You that are begging to be heard and understood by an audience, with songs that go on to live in your soul.


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Purchase Brandi Carlile’s By The Way, I Forgive You