Musician brings open offering with 'Ghost'
If Brandi Carlile had recorded any of her three albums when “High Fidelity” was produced, she most certainly would have been mentioned in at least one of Rob Gordon’s (John Cusack) thick salty rants about quality music. The 28-year-old musician has culled quite a niche in many genres, and what you’ll get on her third album, “Give Up the Ghost,” is a folksy, rock and old country flavor — kind of like biting into a warm biscuit with butter and pepper jelly.
Carlile, who has performed with twins Tim and Phil Hanseroth for all three records, shot into fame when Rolling Stone hailed her as one of the top 10 artists to watch in 2005. In 2007, Carlile’s sophomore album, “The Story” added to her popularity.
It’s easy to listen to “Give Up the Ghost” and see just where Carlile’s inspiration stems from. Since an early age, the singer’s mother would bring her to family jam sessions where Carlile would drink it all in.
“They all had this country western bluegrass thing going on,” Carlile says of various family members. “Grandma Florentine on the honky-tonk-style piano, Grandpa Wesley was a banjo picker, my brother would play spoons, everyone would sing.”
Carlile and the Hanseroth twins wanted to write a record about being on the road but were hesitant. “We were afraid to write an album about being on tour,” Carlile says. “To leave ourselves behind — a cognizant effort to leave things behind.”
As for the bleakness of the record title, the songwriter explains that while it does “sort of mean to die,” it’s also about “having the ability to leave yourself behind, and that’s what ‘Give Up the Ghost’ is for me.”
For Carlile, “Ghost” is by and large a journal of her public and private self. For some songs, it’s an invitation to delve into something deeper; for others, it was a chance for Carlile to perform with a few of her music idols. “That Year” is a reflective take on a school friend’s suicide. “Caroline” is about her niece, and you’ll notice a familiar voice accompanying her on that track — Elton John. Carlile credits John with playing a key role in her evolution as an artist when she realized at an early age that performers could write their own music, and he, in turn, sees her as a “great songwriter.”
Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls sings with her on “Looking Out,” and drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers) lends his drumsticks, to the record. Cellist Josh Neumann, who has performed and recorded with Carlile before, can be heard on the newest record too — one big happy family.
And what prepared Carlile and Co. to record the album was “a lot of ‘A Night at the Opera’ by Queen, a lot of Johnny Cash and Gregory Allen,” she says. “I took those records to heart.”
For some bands, close quarters can create havoc and disorder, but for Carlile and the Hanseroth twins, it was fusion, and that translates right into their latest offering.
“We get along incredibly well,” Carlile says. “We know each other’s boundaries on a subconscious level.” The dynamic among the three is so seamless that the twins bought houses in the same town in Washington state where Carlile calls home. They don’t make it there often, but when they do ... “boy, we make the most of it,” she says. “The whole family thing translates to home — we spend a lot of time fishing, a lot of time at Starbucks.”
If you go
Brandi Carlile's "Give Up the Ghost" tour
Where/When: Oct. 7 at the 9:30 Club, Washington; Oct. 8 at Rams Head Live, Baltimore
"Give Up the Ghost" drops Oct. 6, visit brandicarlile.com
For more information, visit 930.com or ramsheadlive.com
Editor's note: A previous, unedited version of this story was posted earlier. The Examiner regrets the error.