Finally getting an iPod was one thing; figuring out how to use it was something else. Fascinated by Apple’s colorful hipster style ad campaign, I couldn’t wait to figure out how to synch my new iPod to iTunes. Having dial-up internet didn’t help the process and after many failed purchase attempts, I turned to Apple’s generous free songs section more as a trial to save more wasted money on failed download than for any real interest. One of the first songs I successfully downloaded was by an artist whose name initially reminded me of “Circle in the Sand” and “Heaven on Earth” singer Belinda Carlisle from the 1980s.
Yet, instead of the pop radio friendly 80s over-dubbed sound, I became utterly taken in by the powerfully raw, soulful, and intense vocals of singer Brandi Carlile with her song “The Story.” Somehow a cross between the achingly throaty pipes of Janis Joplin and the heartbreakingly pitch-perfect twang of her idol Patsy Cline but with a little of Joni Mitchell’s folk phase thrown in for good measure, “The Story,” is one of those fiery, passionate, and intense songs that comes along once in an artist’s career. While, no doubt it will be the now twenty-three year old’s signature piece, Brandi Carlile who taught herself to sing as well as play the piano and guitar must’ve known in her bones that this would be her breakthrough as well, naming her sophomore album The Story as well.
And although I quickly proceeded to download and appreciate many of the songs in the rest of her musical catalog, it’s the haunting refrain and addictive blend of the sweet with the sour that prompted me to add “The Story” onto every single mix CD and iPod playlist I’ve made since downloading it upon its debut in April of 2007.
The power of the song lives on to this day, getting new life and earning Miss Carlile an entire legion of fans across the globe after it was featured in the August 8 Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics during GM’s moving commercial highlighting their goal to find alternative fuel solutions.
GM Ad “The Story”
And “Carlile, a committed environmentalist, has pledged to donate all proceeds from the advertisement to environmental charities,” according to the press release which also pointed out that the album that features the song and shares the same name has “gone on to sell over a quarter of a million units.” You can view the official video for the song on Carlile’s official YouTube Channel by visiting this link and it can also be heard on her MySpace Page.
Following the success of the Olympics ad placement, Carlile released Live From Boston a wonderful iTunes Exclusive EP that features four tracks including a rollicking cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folson Prison Blues” and a live video performance of her song “Josephine.”
The EP begins with “Have You Ever,” which, when performed live offers immediate proof that her voice is so powerful she needs minimal accompaniment. One of those old folksy Joan Baez styled tracks that seem to illustrate just what an old soul the early twenties songstress is. And although its lyrics are simple enough, it’s the way she plays them like a violin and even more the way she climbs the musical scales throughout, making the sheer sound of her vocalization more poignant than any word included. The catchy track again solidifies her All-American appeal and earthy persona, thus it became the track used in JC Penney’s “American Living” apparel commercial.
JCPenney Ad “Have You Ever”
Following up “Have You Ever,” Carlile ups the ante with the crowd’s obvious favorite, “What Can I Say,” which has a far more country sound to it and excellent lyrics which become infectious to the audience who at one point takes over and sings the chorus aloud. Asking “how many rules” she must break and how sad she is since “she went away” as “Time, time tickin’ on me/Alone is the last place I wanted to be,” it’s a pretty, sad song that emphasizes and makes the most out of the fact that as Carlile said, “I’ve gone through all sorts of vocal phases, from pop to blues to R&B, but no matter what I do, I just can’t get the country & western out of my voice.”
While “What Can I Say,” maybe the hit of the Boston EP, it’s the last two tracks that most commanded my attention. The third track is her biggest hit, “The Story,” which sounds even better live and she gets so into it that it’s a wonder those beautiful vocal chords of hers didn’t break. However, the biggest surprise was what is hands-down the best cover of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” that I’ve ever heard. The guitar gets damn near out of control, rocking harder than we’ve ever heard it before, yet staying so true to Cash’s lyrics and country twang that she never makes an inauthentic move.
While the album is exclusively available for download on iTunes, you can also find a bonus video of “Josephine” as well as a cover of the Radiohead anthem “Creep” available at the link synergy website. And when you realize that all this has been accomplished with sheer determination and natural talent sans professional guidance at such a young age, you become even more inspired to find out what Brandi Carlile will release next.