Brandi Carlile is a portrait of grace and acceptance on In These Silent Days
Some time during the past few years, Brandi Carlile graduated from an artist who emulated her heroes to one who worked with them as a peer. She gave an album's worth of songs to Tanya Tucker for While I'm Livin, which would earn Tucker her first Grammys (yes, plural) half a century into her career. As a child, Carlile was obsessed with Elton John; as an adult, she was receiving saucy texts from him at unexpected hours.
And then there's Joni Mitchell, who began inviting her to jam sessions in her home and whose soul-drenching landmark Blue Carlile would cover live in its entirety in 2019 — with Mitchell watching. There are times all over In These Silent Days when it seems as though Carlile set out to write Mitchell an album just as she did for Tucker, realized how ludicrous it was to write for Joni Mitchell, and just went ahead and recorded it herself.
Song after song is fitted out with Mitchell-y touches, from the innocent fingerpicked melancholy of "This Time Tomorrow" recalling "The Circle Game" to the ebullient "Big Yellow Taxi"/"This Flight Tonight" strumminess fueling "You and Me on the Rock" to the vocal inflections that Carlile deploys with both pinpoint accuracy and emotive effectiveness on "When You're Wrong," "Throwing Good After Bad," and others. There's a reference to a coyote here, back-to-back mentions of "blue" and "roses" there.
In These Silent Days isn't just Carlile doing her best Joni Mitchell, though. The quietly expansive "Letter To My Past" finds her doing her best Elton too, not just in the floating piano-ballad bombast but in the pillowy acoustic guitars, heart-skip drums, and twisty descent linking the verses. And Carlile's invaluable longtime musical soulmates Tim and Phil Hanseroth, having proven deft Simon & Garfunkel mimics in the past, set their sights on the Beatles, backing "Stay Gentle" with soft "Hey Jude"-style harmonies.
But as often as Silent Days sound like Carlile's idols, they sound even more like Carlile herself, drawing from and expanding upon the empathy and incisiveness that she's built her catalog upon. The simple, lullaby-like "Stay Gentle" sounds like a message to her children — and definitely a message to herself. "Broken Horses" goes hard in the opposite direction, maybe her most driving and dynamic song on record, and punctuated with squeaks and squeals new to Carlile's vocal arsenal. Her voice turns spectral while sharing her conception of an ideal partner as "someone strong enough to love you when you're wrong," a portrait of grace and acceptance in the face of human foibles.
In These Silent Days succumbs to its own faults in the unsuccessful metaphor of "Mama Werewolf" and in "Sinners Saints and Fools," a facile parable about conformity to the letter of religion blinding its practitioners to the spirit of it. Even there, though, the song eventually warps into a heavy blues-rock groan that has enough power purely on its own. Seven albums in, Carlile has long since proven herself constitutionally incapable of making a bad record. She's not about to start now. Grade: A-