Brandi Carlile: The Firewatcher’s Daughter (Album Review)

It’s here! And it’s magnificent! Brandi Carlile’s fifth studio album, The Firewatcher’s Daughter, was just released via ATO Records and it sure is somethin’ else. Recorded almost entirely as first takes without any demoing and little rehearsal, The Firewatcher’s Daughter is an unparalleled display of musical brillance.

We throw around the word “wail” so easily when it comes to big voices, but Brandi’s wail is a true, heart-in-throat keen so full of emotion it sounds on the verge of breaking yet so strong it deftly bends every note to her whim. And her longtime collaborators Tim and Phil Hanseroth (a.k.a. “The Twins.”) are with her every glorious step of the way.

“Wherever is Your Heart,” “Beginning to Feel the Years,” “Wilder (We’re Chained)” and the string-accented “I Belong to You” are the kind of beautiful ballads that would tug heartstrings no matter who sang them, but Brandi’s supernatural voice lifts them up to a celestial realm.

The album’s first single, “The Eye,” finds Brandi reigning in her extraordinarily big voice for gentler, sun-drenched, pop-folk harmonies.

“Things I Regret” is a deceptively uptempo, high energy road song that quickly builds, gaining momentum like a steam engine til the roaring finale.

Then “Mainstream Kid” throws a quaking, blues-rock stick of absolute dynamite on the tracks and blows the whole thing to hell. This woman can make Hendrix, Skynyrd, Ram Jam and Nirvana sound like soft jazz!

“Alibi” stays at full throttle rock level, but there’s an unexpected, subtle undercurrent of summery, California pop to the chorus melody that gives it a catchy and slightly disorienting swirl.

“The Stranger at My Door” is an intoxicating, mesmeric gulp of noir, a phantasmagoric masterpiece that bends the mind as much it does genre…like Johnny Cash fronting Led Zeppelin in a David Lynch movie then Trans-Siberian Orchetra jumps on stage to close with a freakin’ rock riff of “When Johnny Comes Marchin’ Home Again!” It is one of the greatest, most deliciously unusual songs ever constructed. Wow, just wow.

The album closes with a fitting cover of The Avett Brothers’ “Murder in the City.”

There is truly no one like Brandi Carlile at her fierce, brilliant best. She’s somehow simultaneously the heir to The Beatles, Janis Joplin and The Man in Black. I’ll be shocked if The Firewatcher’s Daughter isn’t my #1 album come December.

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Brandi Carlile Official Site


The Vespers: Sisters & Brothers

The Vespers will release their third independent album, Sisters & Brothers, on February 10th. A “Southern Folk Pop Family Band” comprised of two sets of siblings, The Vespers sound like no one else. Their honeyed harmonies are layered over lush folk instrumentation with songs ranging from heartfelt and genteel to fierce and bombastic.



The standout tracks are the thunderous, dramatic opener “Break the Cycle” and the delicate exploration of faith in the modern age “Cynical Soul.”

Other highlights include “We Win,” “New Kids,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “The Curtain” and “Please.”

You can download a free, legal mp3 sample including tracks from the new album at Noisetrade.

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The Vespers Official Site


D’Angelo: Black Messiah

Now this is an album. You see, once upon a time, instead of auto-tuned pop puppets churning out vapid radio singles, there were artists who took years, sometimes decades, to conceive, create, collaborate and masterfully hone their music-making craft before even stepping one tiptoe into a studio to record an album. That is why and how there is a Kind of Blue, a Tapestry, a Zoso, a Purple Rain, a Ten, The Archandroid and, now, a Black Messiah. D’Angelo has gifted the world with a work of Shakespearan proportions in an era of penny dreadfuls.



in a world where we all circle the fiery sun,
with a need for love, what have we become?
tragedy flows unbound and there’s no place to run


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Fiona Bevan: Talk to Strangers

Fiona Bevan’s debut album, Talk to Strangers, more than lives up to the promise of its first single. The British singer-songwriter’s quirky soul-pop style falls somewhere between Sheila Nicholls, Joanna Newsom and Corinne Bailey Rae, but these are tenuous reference points at best. Fiona is really carving a niche of her own here.

Fiona’s rich lilt and jaunty instrumentation are particularly charming on “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Slo Mo Tiger Glo” and the lovely “Us and the Darkness.”

The standout track “The Machine” dives into murkier, funkier waters.

Other highlights are Fiona’s exquisite, multi-faceted vocal on “Monsoon Sundance,” the enchanting, buoyant “Pirates and Diamonds” and the simpler beauty of “Forwards.”

I expect Fiona Bevan’s Talk to Strangers to make it on my best of the year list for 2014.

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Fiona Bevan Official Site


Goodnight Texas: Uncle John Farquhar

Goodnight Texas’ sophomore album, Uncle John Farquhar, was just released today and is a top contender for my favorite album of the year. Goodnight Texas have written songs about moonshiners, coal miners, loggers and steel workers, songs about the struggles and comforts of rural life, songs that would make Woody Guthrie proud, songs that are like Steinbeck novels set to music.

Conceptualized as a scrapbook, Uncle John Farquhar was inspired by stories, letters, books and archives from the band members’ respective family histories – particularly Patrick Dyer Wolf’s titular great-great-grandfather.

The followup to their debut, A Long Life of Living, is so magnificent that all of my praise of that album is just as applicable here: “…who is this band and how can anyone make an entire album of music this good?” The new album recaptures and builds on that impressive foundation, this time with a bit more pep akin to Wildflowers-era Tom Petty.

While bands in the Americana/folk revival genre have become a dime a dozen in the post-Mumford era, Goodnight Texas stand out with a brillance and authenticity far above the rest. I adore the dark, ferocious undercurrent to their multi-layered, cross-genre arrangements and especially the rustic poetry of their lyrics.

The exquisite ballad “Dearest Sarah” is written as a letter from a Civil War soldier to his wife. Avi Vinocur perfected the song over a period of 8 years, culling the story and poignant lyric “my love for you is deathless” directly from an actual Civil War letter – written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his “very dear wife” just days before his death. Vinocur expertly mimicked and expounded on the letter’s eloquent, genteel language for the rest of the song’s lyrics and set them atop some truly gorgeous instrumentation. I’m very excited to premiere the song here on Muruch at the end of this review.

Other highlights include the moody backwoods outlaw anthem “Moonshiners,” the heartwarming ode to country life “Uncle John Farquhar,” the rugged finale “Knock Em Stiff” and the album’s jaunty first single “A Bank Robber’s Nursery Rhyme” – the free, legal mp3 of which you can download here.

It’s a shame Goodnight Texas haven’t performed at Mountain Stage yet, it’ll be a crime if they don’t do so within the next year. This is a band destined for greatness.

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Goodnight Texas Official Site

Goodnight Texas on Soundcloud