If you had a voice like Brandi Carlile’s, you’d take great pleasure in using it. I expect you’d spend hours in the shower learning to negotiate said voice’s equally slippery high and low registers; you’d hone its steely edge until you could drive it straight through listeners’ foreheads; you’d probably hold long notes like dark, trembling fruit until they ripened, swelled, and burst their innards all over you. How do I know this? Pure scientific deduction, my friend—Thom Yorke owns a similar voice, and he does all the same shit.
Unfortunately, too many of Brandi’s songs sound like by-the-book Bends outtakes. Since that book includes a “Prettiness” chapter, the results aren’t always unlistenable, but she only attains greatness on three numbers that folk-rock like the ’65 Beatles. “Closer to You” was one of the highlights of the Traveling Pants soundtrack, and makes me wander around the shower singing “I’ve Just Seen a Face.” “What Can I Say” had the misfortune of running under a trite Grey’s Anatomy sum-up-alogue. “Happy” hasn’t yet popped up anywhere else (keep an eye on ER!), but its wistful acoustic chugalug recalls the more subtle shades of Norah Jones. If that’s not a ringing endorsement, remember the context—amid subpar Radiohead, Norah sounds pretty good.
Brandi Carlile plays Mercury Lounge February 13.