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Brandi Carlile “Bear Creek”—Album Review

Columbia Records (2012)

As a point of disclosure, let me start by saying I’m a huuuge fan of Brandi Carlile. Her songwriting style is nothing short of inspiring, and her gritty folk-rocky voice goes easily from warbling to wailing—and both give me goosebumps. So when her fifth record Bear Creek dropped this week, I was all primed to give it a “5.”

I soooo wish I could. But I can’t.

Don’t get me wrong—there are a lot of things about this record that are definite steps forward for Carlile. She continues to mature as a songwriter, and for self-producing the record (with help from Trina Shoemaker), she certainly deserves some kudos. Stylistically, I’d say this record leans more toward Carlile’s folk and bluegrass roots, and while the rock elements still show up on songs like “Rise Again,” the folky sounds evident on tracks like “Save Part of Yourself” and “Raise Hell” form the lion’s share of the album’s overall sound. Overall, it’s a very well-done album; I’m sure the critics will love it, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she even gets some Grammy nods for it.

So what’s the problem?

I suppose for me, Brandi Carlile set an extremely high bar for herself with earlier songs like “The Story,” where she just pulls out all the stops and belts out the words with unbridled passion. I know that can’t happen with every song—but on Bear Creek, it really doesn’t happen with any song. There’s such a thing as being too controlled as an artist, which is a bit of a surprise for this record since Carlile had the production reins herself. Let me just say that if this is a more mature version of Brandi Carlile, I feel like something got lost as she grew up, something that I think she needs to recapture. I prefer the raw, immature version better.

Perhaps I might have felt differently about Bear Creek if this were the first time I’d heard Brandi Carlile sing. Taking the record on its own merit, it certainly stands up as a solid work; it’s just that the cat’s out of the bag, and I know what Carlile is really capable of—and in that context, I guess I was just expecting more from this record than what it actually delivers.

ALBUM RATING: 3.5 Stars (out of five)

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About the Author


Growing up in Portland, Oregon, Kim Phelps found her inspiration and love for music listening to local bands play in the coffeehouses around town. She soon found her own voice as a singer-songwriter, and eventually began playing her own gigs in the coffee shops. Her personal influences include Ani DiFranco, Indigo Girls, Ingrid Michaelson and Cat Power, but as an indie musician herself, she has an affinity for any band or artist who pursues creative freedom on the outskirts of the music industry. As our Indie correspondent, Kim makes a point of highlighting up-and-coming independent acts who are creating a buzz and building an audience. When she's not blogging for us or playing in the coffee shops, Kim works as a barista herself to help pay the bills. She currently lives in Seattle, Washington.

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Posted in: Featured, Indie/Alternative Music


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