Sometimes, on a record, individual tracks stand out on the very first listen -- for better or worse -- but the collection, as a whole, takes a few more spins to really sink in. Even then, it might not fully come together as a cohesive listening experience although it might still be enjoyable when taken in fits and starts. Such is the case with Brandi Carlile's'The Firewatcher's Daughter' (and, indeed, her last two records, as well). There are some absolutely, immediately stellar pixels on this album, but the bigger picture takes a minute to come into view.
Buzzing with excitement -- like their parents are out of town -- Carlile and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) get things going with the wildly insistent "Wherever Is Your Heart." But, just as quickly, they rein it all back in on the very next cut. If "Wherever Is Your Heart" is their Saturday night, then "The Eye" is their Sunday morning. With three-fold harmonies that stick together for the entire piece,"The Eye" holds in it so much of what makes Carlile and the twins so very special, in both style and substance. Lyrically, it digs into one of the band's recurring themes, that of drinking as an escape and an excuse, but always written with the hand of forgiveness and the hope of redemption.
A little further in, "Mainstream Kid" stands as the edgiest thing Carlile and company have ever done. Gritty, vintage guitars (including a blazing solo) drop off about halfway through, but the petulant kick drum keeps the drive going as Carlile brings it down just enough to then let everything cut loose and carry on. It's going to be a thrill seeing them rock this one live. Though "Beginning to Feel the Years" has the unenviable job of following it in the sequence, it gets its job done, serving as a respite, a recovery from the pummeling -- albeit a pleasing one -- that is "Mainstream Kid."
On the proverbial side two, "Blood Muscle Skin & Bone" and "Alibi" pick up, somewhat, where "Mainstream Kid" left off, while, deeper still, "The Stranger at My Door," from which the album's title is drawn, may well be the musical synthesis of Carlile's influences. Here, a dusty, cowboy bluster collides with Queen-esque background vocals that come out of nowhere -- and somehow still work -- proving that Carlile really is the musical love child of Johnny Cash and Freddie Mercury. And proudly, rightfully so.
Though there's an awful lot of heart on this album, the last entry, a cover of the Avett Brothers' "Murder in the City," is pretty magical, particularly when comes Carlile's subtle injection of emotion on the last few lines about her wife and daughter. That moment will surely resonate with so many who are only just beginning to enjoy the ability to share their name with the ones they love.
As on her previous efforts, Carlile uses 'The Firewatcher's Daughter' to explore the various closing and opening of doors that make up a life worth living. And, as always, she does so with an obvious gratitude for both.
'The Firewatcher's Daughter' was released on March 3 via ATO Records, and is available - HERE.