Fine tunes from Midland and Brandi Carlile

It is somewhat sheepishly that I provide a brief review of Brandi Carlile‘s By the Way, I Forgive You. While Grammy nominations don’t necessarily mean a lot, the six she received in 2018 as a result of this record do speak volumes. I’m sheepish because I did (of course) give her song “The Joke” a quick listen on the YouTube, but for whatever reason it didn’t grab me. Given how great this album is, I want to nag at that a little more. Carlile has a powerful, distinctive voice, and I’m wondering if trying to listen on crappy laptop speakers gave it an unpleasant timbre. Furthermore, I found the cover design offputting; turn a light on, I want to say.

Still, thank goodness for The Highwomen, which album has given me cause to go back and listen more properly to By the Way…, and I’m here to confirm what everybody from the Grammy nominations committee to Barack Obama already knew. It’s a tremendous album, full of confidence and swagger, a shout to the rafters of the kind of popular music that defies categories. The great pleasure for me now will be in going back and listening to her earlier records.

Meanwhile, Texas-based Midland have recently released their second album, and it too is a cracking listen. Perhaps because lead singer Mark Wystrach was also a soap opera star and model, people found it hard to take Midland too seriously at first. Early singles were good, but was this for real? Was this pastiche? The Nudie-style suits certainly nodded towards Gram Parsons, while the smooth harmonies recall Eagles and the 70s West Coast scene. Ultimately, the vibe is Alan Jackson mixed with all of the above, and (pastiche or not) these guys are seriously good.

Their first album, from 2017, was On the Rocks, and I’m still playing it regularly on my 4-star-plus playlist. Their second album, Let it Roll, released in August, proves that the first was no fluke. It’s packed with hits, is a pleasant listen, and doesn’t seem to contain a single duff track.

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