Brandi Carlile's In These Silent Days is as powerful in its biggest moments as it is in its most subdued.
Just as Carlile and collaborators Phil and Tim Hanseroth move from contemplative to bombastic on the opening track, and first song released from the album, "Right on Time," the album's 10 songs offer a similar mix. The obvious influences-turned-friends from whom Carlile and company pull in songs at the start and end of the project encapsulate this dichotomy: The sweet, Joni Mitchell-esque "You and Me on the Rock" is In These Silent Days' second track, while the penultimate song, "Sinners, Saints and Fools," would certainly make Elton John proud.
Carlile's first album since 2018's Grammy-winning, critically acclaimed By the Way, I Forgive You, In These Silent Days directly follows the release of Carlile's memoir, Broken Horses. The singer says writing that book was "fodder for days for a new album."
"[I]t's a mining of yourself that you do. I try not to self-indulge to the point of ridiculousness, but writing that book gave me this really linear understanding of 'Here's how I started and here's how I am, and these are the things in between that made it so,' and it was such clarity," Carlile tells Apple Music. "I've always written these songs where ... I would write songs and finish these songs, record these songs, and be playing them on the road before I'd realized what I'd written the song about ... But this was the first time, I think because I'd written the book, that I knew what I was writing the songs about while I was writing them."
In These Silent Days is also a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only is Carlile sharing her own reflections and lessons from this time, she says she wants to make listeners think about their own growth and change during the global event.
"I want to invite people into reflecting on this time because it's such a pivotal time in human history, and a real spiritual upheaval for so many people in really positive and really negative, complicated ways," Carlile says. "I documented my Saturn return, and I documented leaving my parents [with past albums] ... and this album is the document of these silent days."
Keep reading for five can't-miss songs on In These Silent Days:
Bound to be an exceptional live song, "Broken Horses" opens with a howl, a vocal pattern Carlile repeats throughout the song, which shares its name with her recently released memoir. Acoustic guitars and pounding piano back her as she sings about feeling "tethered in wide open spaces" and "mendin' up your fences with my horses runnin' wild."
While other tracks ("This Time Tomorrow," for example) find Carlile and the Hanseroths consistently singing in three-part harmony, it's used sparingly in this song, to great effect. They start the chorus' kicker — "Only broken horses know to run" — with her, but by the end, she's almost completely alone.
Many of In These Silent Days' most vulnerable, and best, moments are messages to Carlile and wife Catherine's daughters, Evangeline and Elijah. During an AmericanaFest 2021 album-listening session, Carlile admitted that Evangeline, in particular, reminds her so much of herself, and "Letter to the Past" is as much a message to her as it is to a younger Carlile — and, to take it further, to anyone who's felt like an outsider.
"You're a stone wall in a world full of rubberbands / You're a pillar of belief still hidin' your empty hands," Carlile sings in the chorus, cautioning, "Folks are gonna lean on you and leave when the crack appear," but promising, "Darlin', I will be here / I'll be the last / You're my letter to the past."
Only two-and-a-half minutes long, "Stay Gentle" is a darling lullaby. Its quiet, acoustic melody and Carlile and the Hanseroths' harmonies create a retro-pop sound that provides a perfect backdrop to this letter to the younger generation.
"Stay gentle / Stay gentle / The most powerful thing you can do / Oh, gentle, unbreakable you," they end, after dispensing plenty of simple, compassionate wisdom.
"Sinners, Saints and Fools"
This story-song takes to task those who, as Carlile tells Apple Music, "hurl ancient scripture" at marginalized and displaced people "to justify completely excluding them from all the things that bring us joy." As the tale's "God-fearing man" learns, your past deeds — the good, but especially the bad — will always come back around.
"You can't break the law / There are reasons for the rules / They keep things safe here for everyone / The sinners, saints and fools / The poor and huddled masses who are hungry and afraid / You've gotta do it by the book / And there'll be no exceptions made," Carlile repeats each chorus, with the final turn offering an incredible dose of karma.
In the wrong hands, this story could be preachy, but an arrangement that channels the great Paul Buckmaster's finest work levels up this track. It culminates in an all-out jam — think John's "Madman Across the Water" — that ends perfectly abruptly, after adding a musical exclamation point to the message.
"Throwing Good After Bad"
While "Sinners, Saints and Fools" goes out with a bang, In These Silent Days ends on a much quieter, more tender note. The song finds Carlile working through the end of a relationship with someone who loves "the rush, the chase, the new," but fails to understand that it's what comes next, not all of that chaos, that should be the end goal.
"You want a movie dancer / You want blood from a stone / But I'm on to you, and you will pour your heart into / Any shimmering fad," Carlile sings, cautioning, "I'll get over you / But you won't be home until you do / You won't find what you had / Throwin' good after bad."