I first saw Brandi Carlile in concert in August of 2019 when she opened for Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit. The crowd was an eclectic mix of 30-something midwestern PBR drinkers and middle-aged lesbian couples. The presence of the latter group befuddled my brother, whom I had dragged along with me, but made sense when Carlile told a story about her wife and her influence on Carlile’s relationship to Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece Blue. Prior to meeting her wife, Catherine, Carlile had found Mitchell’s music to be sappy, silly even. But Catherine insisted that they listen to the album again, together. Carlile came around, so much so that she covered Blue in its entirety this year in celebration of the album’s 50th anniversary.
This story encapsulates much of what makes In These Silent Days, which was released on Oct. 1st, such an excellent album. Mitchell’s influences are obvious; songs like “You and Me On The Rock” would feel at home on Blue and Mitchell’s other early-70’s albums. Carlile’s family is a common theme; in the swinging lullaby “Stay Gentle,” she advises her two daughters to do just that, for it is “the most powerful thing you can do.” She delves into the challenges of mature relationships in “When You’re Wrong,” as she grapples with growing older and more disillusioned alongside someone she loves. Like Carlile’s entire catalogue—she has released seven albums since her self-titled debut in 2005—the songs are genuine, heartfelt, and carried by her powerful, versatile voice.
While Carlile is perhaps most famous for her hit song “The Story,” the title track from her 2007 album, she did not break into the mainstream until over a decade later with 2018’s By the Way, I Forgive You, which was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammys. In These Silent Days builds on that album’s success and artistry. The opening track “Right on Time” is a classic Carlile anthem, with elegant production and soaring vocals. In “The Mother” (By The Way, I Forgive You), Carlile sings to her daughter Evangeline that “the world has stood against us, made us mean to fight for you.” In an updated message on parenthood on In These Silent Days, the fierce “Mama Werewolf” asks her daughters, “Would you change me back, make me kind again?” if her “good intentions go running wild.”
But her new album can also stand on its own, and I think that Carlile knows this. After the success of her 2018 album, she has become even more of a force in the Americana scene, forming a country supergroup, The Highwomen, and producing a Grammy-winning album for country artist Tanya Tucker. In These Silent Days carries this (perhaps) newfound confidence all the way through, from the blues-rock howl of “Broken Horses” to the soft piano ballad “Throwing Good After Bad.” Though it feels a bit front-loaded, with the up-tempo tracks stacked at the beginning, Carlile brings her best to this album, and it is a cohesive reflection on the intimate challenges of love, motherhood, and aging.
Carlile is an excellent songwriter and an even better singer, and it feels as if she is finally getting her due. Comparing an artist to Joni Mitchell is bold, and comparing oneself to Joni Mitchell is sacrilegious. I do the first and Carlile does the second, and quite frankly, neither of us miss.