It's obvious that Brandi Carlile loves the wonderful, magical beast that is rock and roll. She's not just a performer, she sounds like a fan who's done her time with Led Zeppelin and Elton John and Heart and Jeff Buckley.
It's disappointing, then, that Carlile doesn't take any of the risks that rock's greatest artists took. Zeppelin started as a blues-rock band, then broke every rule in the blues-rock book. Elton took his exceptional songwriting and extravagant personality and created something magnificent. Heart had the courage and conviction to rock in an unprecedented way. Jeff Buckley found the spirit of Zeppelin and remade it in his own unique image.
Carlile and her talented bandmates, Tim and Phil Hanseroth, do none of that. This album isn't Zeppelin and Elton and Heart and Buckley, it's Great White and Five For Fighting and 4 Non Blondes and Blind Melon. And that is a shame, because Carlile and Co. might have some great rock inside of them, if they'd just be brave enough to let it out.
Everything about Carlile's songs and performances is good, but nothing is great. She doesn't tap into any of the magic, wildness, or passion of the bands who paved the road upon which she walks. She doesn't push any boundaries or break down any walls. Nothing on this album reaches out and says, "I am Brandi Carlile, dammit, and I am going to blow your mind." And after hearing her music, I really want her to reach out and blow my mind. I think she can do it, and I hope someday she decides to try.
The cover is a poor representation of the music inside. It makes Carlile look as if she's peers with Ashlee Simpson and Avril Lavigne. Otherwise, the package is very good. The lyrics are included, which is a nice thing in this case. The photos are all very flattering to Carlile, but the only picture that captures the essence of the music is the live shot on the back of the jacket. The paper stock is a pleasure to hold, even if the muted colors are bland and uninspired.
Listen if you like: Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Heart, and Jeff Buckley, as long as you're open to an artist who isn't as great as they are.
If it were food, it'd be: Taco Bell. It's good, it's cheap, it's quick, and it's mighty enjoyable. But if you want the real thing, this just doesn't cut it.