Singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile's music has always had a rootsy Americana vibe, but she brings a more obvious country influence to her new album, "Bear Creek". But even amid overt references to Johnny and June Carter Cash ("Heart's Content"), the most distinctive feature is her haunting, raspy voice.
Carlile doesn't wait long to unleash those vocals. On album opener "Hard Way Home", her forceful pipes help to push forward the boot-stomping rhythm. On the second track, "Raise Hell", she really lets loose, starting with a sultry smolder and quickly accelerating into a feverish howl, sounding as much like a gospel revival as a countrified blues rock number. Carlile is equally passionate later on "Rise Again", whose fervent choruses channel the fiery power of Melissa Etheridge.
Those all-out numbers are certainly memorable, but Carlile also knows how to rein in her energy. "That Wasn't Me" starts as a soft piano ballad that sounds like Adele, while the tender "Save Part of Yourself" balances her sweeter vocals with an irresistible handclapped rhythm and catchy singalongs. She doesn't always connect; the album-closing "Just Kids" is a too-long, swirling reverie that just seems unfocused. It's a bold move to end on such a different note, but Carlile's strength is writing and delivering accessible pop songs -- with or without a bit of twang.
-- Catherine P. Lewis