Saturday, July 21, 2012


There's Nashville country, that's the over-produced, hat-wearing, sappy, pop-flavoured stuff that sounds more like Fleetwood Mac than Hank Williams.  There's alt-country, which is basically country for rock fans, with bands and fans that worship Gram Parsons and electric guitars.  There's Outlaw country, the Waylon-Willie-Merle stuff that hasn't changed much since the '70's.  There's classic country, which can mean anything from the Carter Family to the countrypolitan stuff of the 60's and 70's, the George Jones-Loretta Lynn-Tammy Wynette style.  Then there's old-timey and Bluegrass, which can go from Bill Monroe to Alison Krauss.  Roots-songwriter country can feature cowboys like Ian Tyson and Corb Lund, or craftspeople like Rosanne Cash and Guy Clark.  And then there's Johnny Cash.  There's probably a couple more genres I'm missing.  Anyway, it's all splintered and confusing, and causes great ire depending on which you prefer.

So then there's Brandi Carlile, who straddles more than one fence.  Carlile writes most of her songs with brothers and bandmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth, and it feels like these are basically her own words and feelings.  It's quite polished, expensive-sounding, but seems real and heartfelt.  She bounces around the place, from the sweet string-piano parlour tune Heart's Content, to the big pop of Rise Again and even some, you know, country-sounding songs.  Even her voice is enigmatic, pure, rich and big, like a belting Bonnie Raitt, but with just the slightest hint of a rural drawl.

The polished side seems to annoy the No Depression crowd, who find lots to like in her other styles.  So she doesn't score that well in the cool club, although you'll still find her on the NPR playlist in the States.  But mainstream country hasn't fallen too hard for her either, and instead of being on the road with Dierks Bentley, she tours with the likes of Dave Matthews Band and Ray LaMontagne.  Her last album was live with an orchestra, covering Elton John, Simon and Garfunkel and, ulp, yet another Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen.  What IS she?

In the end, it doesn't matter a toss.  You can like her or ignore.  I vote to like her, she has a great voice and lots of ideas.  She doesn't fit into the standard styles of country, or anything else for that matter, and perhaps that's the best part of her work, just doing what she wants.

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