8 p.m. May 9
The Ark, Ann Arbor (Sold out)
Once upon a time Brandi Carlile surged through to an onslaught of folk fanatics – courtesy of some doctors – faster than a forest fire. The time? Just two years ago when her critically acclaimed self-titled debut barely made much racket outside of the folk realm, except for on “Grey’s Anatomy,” which used a handful of her tunes. A sold-out show on May 9 at The Ark in Ann Arbor only increases the tomboy-ish 24-year-old’s rising credibility.
Carlile avoided the sophomore curse, as her follow-up, “The Story,” wisely highlights the musician’s most marvelous facet: a walloping voice suited for head bangers and mellow swayers. Carlile’s voice can’t be pigeonholed; it’s a little Patsy Cline, a tad-bit Jeff Buckley.
But, effortlessly, Carlile nails notes with a rougher – and sometimes beautifully imperfect – edge than her debut, sailing from deep alto to flying falsettos. The proof of her vocal gymnastics was there from the start.
The Seattle, Wash., native’s commanding chops on “Brandi Carlile” – paired with those of her easy-on-the-eyes pals, The Twins – fostered a spot-on set, heavy on heart-achy, folksy ditties and mild rockers. “The Story,” though stylistically similar, flourishes vocally – letting her elastic cords stretch and often pull back, and then suddenly spring back full force.
Take the yo-yo rocking title track, which seesaws between spare guitar and a hard-hitting refrain. As the song reaches a climax, Carlile’s aggressive voice launches into a grungy crescendo with a noticeably cracked note. Some might cringe – thinking Carlile’s voice flaked out – and reach for the stop button, but what she and veteran roots producer T-Bone Burnett have done is showcase this budding artist as a remarkably raw singer-songwriter and, thankfully, not as an overproduced Starbucks songstress.
It’s in these unpolished moments that her roots essence – to be more than a glossy Norah Jones, or clean-cut Melissa Etheridge – glares through as noticeably as these ripped-up lyrics.
The foot-tappin’ “Have You Ever?” – which takes us on a soul-searching forest field trip – carries a carefree bounce through a repeated be-bopping drumbeat and Carlile’s expansive range. “Josephine,” a ditty exploring unrequited love, is a graciously mellow moment: heartbreakingly restrained vocals and beautiful harmonies laced over acoustic guitar. The organic “Cannonball” and “Downpour,” the former laced with quiet harmony from the Indigo Girls, suit her rootsy style and hones in on her melancholy songwriting skills. The primo “Again Today” is a testament to the versatility of Carlile. Its synth-sounding intro bursts into a thundering rocker that parallels Coldplay’s style. But, still, it’s all part of Carlile’s story – wrapped up in luscious melodies and shimmering flaws.