Brandi Carlile is a refreshing break from the seemingly endless list of singer-songwriters thrust into a cookie-cutter mold of slick production and crystalline vocals. "The Story," Carlile's second major-label release, matches her raspy voice and melancholy songs with the rootsy production of T Bone Burnett.
The result seems to be a genuine expression of her musical influences and interests. She channels Patsy Cline with the mournful "Cannonball," her twangy voice heavy with sorrow in the opening line, "I was born when I met you/Now I'm dying to forget you." On "Late Morning Lullaby," she blends the tenderness of Linda Ronstadt with the power of Melissa Etheridge, and those shifting vocal dynamics are dramatic and entrancing. Carlile's vocal control is her most striking trait. On the hidden track, "Hiding My Heart Away," she reins in her otherwise booming voice, and the quieter, simpler song is a breathtaking portrait of her dejection.
Tori Amos would be an easy comparison for Alison Sudol's project A Fine Frenzy: Both are redheaded pianists. But the similarities don't go much further. Sudol's voice is breathier than Amos's, and her songs shimmer in a way that suits a band named for a line in "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Sudol hasn't quite reached Amos's lyrical effortlessness ("We're not that different after all," she muses in "The Minnow & the Trout"), but "One Cell in the Sea" is certainly an intriguing debut for this self-taught pianist.
-- Catherine P. Lewis