Brandi Carlile

By the Way I Forgive You

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By the Way I Forgive You represents a return of sorts for Brandi Carlile, finding the singer/songwriter shifting away from the ramshackle mess of 2015's The Firewatcher's Daughter and toward the kind of grandiose emotional bloodletting she pioneered on her 2007 album, The Story. This transition was intentional, spurred by producer Dave Cobb's notion that Carlile hasn't topped her vocal on "The Story" in the decade since. Seizing this challenge, Carlile -- supported, as ever, by the Twins' Tim and Phil Hanseroth -- hired Cobb and Shooter Jennings as co-producers and crafted the stately, spooky By the Way I Forgive You. Where The Story bore signs of earnest idealism, By the Way I Forgive You wears its scars proudly, using "Every Time I Hear That Song" -- a lament whose refrain provides the album with its title -- as its touchstone. Wounded but compassionate, the song is about forgiveness, and that's the underlying emotion that ties together this backwoods balladry, operatic Americana, and rough-hewn rock. Carlile doesn't always find forgiveness easy but she's operating from a place of empathy, which gives her tales of loss, frustration, and wrong turns a deep resonance, especially as her lyrics find a match within the music. The Twins have always elevated Carlile's songs above the realm of delicate confessionals, but here they attack with a muscular grace, keeping their full power in reserve until the necessary moments. Cobb and Jennings not only capture this elemental musicality, they accentuate it through cinematic string arrangements from the late Paul Buckmaster. Sweeping and symphonic, Buckmaster's strings command attention but they do not overshadow Carlile, who indeed hasn't sounded this nuanced or forceful on record since The Story. Nevertheless, By the Way I Forgive You is a different beast than its predecessor, a record with more texture, shade, and ambiguity: it is clearly the work of a maturing artist and it's all the richer for it.

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