Brandi Carlile stays grounded
Seattle, Wash.-based singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile adds another striking collection of songs to her discography with Bear Creek. Carlile and her band members, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, co-produced the album with Trina Shoemaker, a simpatico, Grammy-winning producer, engineer and mixer whose previous clients include Emmylou Harris, Sheryl Crow and Queens of the Stone Age.
Bear Creek has all of the qualities Carlile demonstrated in earlier studio albums and more. Again, she roams the musical landscape, moving from rootsy country to folk, soul and pop in a such way that the pieces flow into a cohesive whole.
Nevertheless, the rustic tone that opens the album, reflected in the album’s woodsy cover art, dominates. Carlile, backed by a blend of plucked string instruments, emphasizes her country and folk leanings in the early tracks.
The high-spirited, fun “Hard Way Home” features the huskier edge of her voice alongside banjo, acoustic guitar and hand claps. Rural tone also colors the darker “Raise Hell” and its lyrics about overcoming a hard-luck start through grit and persistence.
Carlile earns her comparisons to Bonnie Raitt with the soulful “That Wasn’t Me.” She shifts to folk for “100” and, a song that suggests early Paul Simon, “A Promise To Keep.” The songs’ arrangements feature the surprising but successful use of cello and violin.
Carlile raises the tempo and volume for roots-rock number “I’ll Still Be There” and, with its piano, violin and cello, “What Did I Ever Come Here For” is inevitably Beatles-esque.
Tackle as many genres as she does, Carlile does them all so well.
Released in 1986, Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland album became a high point of the already successful solo career that followed the singer-songwriter-guitarist’s high-flying ’60s partnership with Art Garfunkel.
Simon’s pioneering interest in the music of other nations manifested itself in later Simon and Garfunkel recordings but Graceland, his initially controversial collaboration with South African singers and musicians, pushed him into a vibrant new realm.
The album also benefits from guest appearances by Louisiana zydeco artist Rockin’ Dopsie, East Los Angeles’ Los Lobos, Linda Ronstadt and the Everly Brothers
Simon and Graceland’s international cast’s fusion of his poetic lyrics with performances by the then obscure South African vocal group Ladysmith Black Mabazo, Senegalese singer Youssou N’Dour and the musicians with whom he recorded rhythm and backing vocal tracks in Johannesburg is as fresh today as it was in 1986.
The remastered recordings sound even more richly detailed in their multiple 25th anniversary editions.
Title track “Graceland” has lost none of its pulsing energy or feeling of anticipation.
The song’s lyrics depict a father and his 9-year-old son on a journey through an American South in which Elvis Presley’s Memphis mansion, Graceland, represents an idealized palace of tolerance and grace.
A rich girl with diamonds on the soles of her shoes and a poor boy who must do with ordinary shoes are the principal characters in “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes.” “Diamonds” begins with unforgettable a cappella vocals by Simon and Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The joy in the music rises further through a bright injection of saxophones and trumpet.
Simon also makes a musical and cultural connection between South Africa and south Louisiana through Forere Motloheloa’s accordion in “The Boy in the Bubble” and Rockin’ Dopsie’s accordion performance for the Lafayette-set “That Was Your Mother.”
Simon received Grammy awards for the album and its title song. Graceland was a commercial hit, too, eventually selling 14 million copies and becoming the most popular album of his career. More than a generation after its release, it still shines.
THE ESSENTIAL DONOVAN
The early recordings of recent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Donovan Leitch, known simply as Donovan, present a nasal-toned folk singer-guitarist in the mode of the young Bob Dylan. Following those 1965 recordings, Scotsman Donovan evolved from “Catch the Wind,” “Colours” and, music more in the British folk tradition, “Summer Reflections Song,” into the psychedelic rock of “Mellow Yellow” and “Sunshine Superman” (both featuring future Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page). In an era of pop-music experimentation, he also ventured into chamber music-pop with “Legend of A Girl Child Linda” and “Jennifer Juniper.”
For “Ferris Wheel,” Donovan dabbles in the Indian music that his pal, George Harrison, loved. He could swing, too, a rarity in mid-’60s pop music, as heard in the jazzy “There Is A Mountain” and Jeff Beck Group-backed “Barabajagal (Love Is Hot).”
The two-CD The Essential Donovan gathers Donovan’s hits, some of which, especially “Happiness Runs” and his spoken and sung fable, “Atlantis,” fit the time of their release but seem slight and dated now. But Donovan’s best music still works and the lesser-known recordings by this distinctive peer of fellow Britons the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Beck and Page earn their spot on this 36-track retrospective.