Years before singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile got her flowers now through a huge 2018 Grammy awards haul and her involvement with Tanya Tucker and The Highwomen (a supergroup with Maren Morris, Amanda Shires and Natalie Hemby), she reigned atop the folk-rock world alongside longtime twin bandmates Phil Hanseroth and Tim Hanseroth.
Her seven studio albums --including the 2005 debut that brought us "Throw It All Away" and her Dave Cobb and Shooter Jennings-produced 2018 opus By the Way, I Forgive You-- gifted fans with the following 12 songs and dozens of other examples of the Seattle-based artist's songwriting acumen.
As always seems to happen with lists, several truly great songs didn't make the cut, with snubs including "The Things I Regret," "Looking Out," "That Wasn't Me," "Heart's Content," "A Promise to Keep," "The Mother" "Hard Way Home," early-career cut "Turpentine" and other fan favorites. No two Carlile playlists will completely be the same, which is one of the rewards of following such a well-rounded talent.
With all of that said, here's Wide Open Country's top 12 Brandi Carlile songs.
12. "Mainstream Kid"
From the more country-rock end of Carlile's catalog comes this ass-kicking cut from 2015. It's an example of Carlile following the lead of childhood heroes the Indigo Girls.
11. "Right on Time"
The beautiful piano opening and equally gorgeous lyrics of Carlile open In These Silent Days, a 2021 album produced by the outsider country dream team of Cobb and Jennings. It's from the same album that brought us the equally moving "Broken Horses" and Lucius collaboration "You and Me on the Rock."
10. "Every Time I Hear That Song"
Although it's less ever-present than "The Joke," this cut off By the Way, I Forgive You played its own role in dropping the jaws of established listeners and winning over new fans.
One of Carlile's best moments as a rock-inspired powerhouse suggests contentment over getting too bogged down over what might be lacking in your life. It's from 2009's Give Up the Ghost.
8. "The Eye"
Carlile shares a message of self-love, not unlike the positive vibes shared by Lizzo, Halsey and other mainstream voices, through this and other cuts off 2015's The Firewatcher's Daughter. It's among the better acoustic guitar-driven showpieces of Carlile and the Hanseroth twins' gorgeous, tight harmonies.
The great country storytellers of the past, namely Elton John and Dolly Parton, would've jumped at the chance to cut this story-song if it'd been written decades earlier.
Whenever Carlile and the twins perform this one live, it perfectly ties in with their stories about starting out as youngsters more interested in channeling Crosby, Stills and Nash's folk-rock harmonies than forming yet another grunge-inspired band.
5. "Party of One"
Carlile collaborates with popular culture pals, from music video star Elizabeth Moss to the version featuring Sam Smith, while sounding like one of the folk giants of our time with this key cog in her recent mainstream success.
4. "Wherever is Your Heart"
Carlile considers the changes that come with growing up on what starts out as a gentle, guitar-driven weeper before it hits its stride as one of the great indie-folk power ballads of the past decade.
3. "Raise Hell"
Lines like "I dug a hole inside my heart to put you in my grave" make this one of most compelling country-inspired songs in Carlile's repertoire, much less the best song from the great 2012 album Bear Creek.
2. "The Story"
The title track from 2007's The Story (produced by T Bone Burnett) remains one of Carlile's most recognizable and best-written songs. It got quite the endorsement when Parton cut her own version 10 years later for tribute album Cover Stories.
1. "The Joke"
The Best American Roots Performance and Best American Roots Song winner from the 2018 Grammys reigns as one of the most beautiful and meaningful songs to start its life under the broad umbrella of Americana before earning footing in popular culture. Carlile's finest musical moment also earned coveted Record and Song of the Year nominations from the Recording Academy.
This story previously ran on Aug. 20, 2020.
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