Brandi Carlile, “By the Way, I Forgive You” (Elektra)
The title of Carlile’s new album is a line that recurs throughout the opening track, “Every Time I Hear That Song.” It’s addressed to an ex-lover, and it contains sadness and regret and tenderness, but also a touch of getting-the-last-laugh vindication. In other words, it’s full-blooded, emotionally nuanced, and true to life, and it sets the tone for the rest of this gripping set.
“Whatever You Do” is a stark portrait of someone caught between devotion and independence while “The Mother” is an unabashed celebration of renewal and redemption brought on by motherhood. “Sugartooth” is a wrenching portrayal of an addict, with a strong strain of empathy that also inhabits “The Joke.”
The music incorporates country, folk, rock and pop, and even when strings are employed, as they often are, the arrangements remain terse and spare, sharpening the focus on Carlile and her songs.
“I don’t always choose to stay on the sunny side,” Carlile warns on “Harder to Forgive.” That’s true, but it’s her ability to convey so many shades of emotion that makes her work here so powerful.
NICK CRISTIANO, Philadelphia Inquirer
Stone Temple Pilots, “Stone Temple Pilots” (Atlantic)
When Stone Temple Pilots were rolling out one grunge-tinged rock hit after another in the ’90s, you could depend on the DeLeo brothers’ raucous guitar work and singer Scott Weiland’s unpredictability.
With the band’s first album in eight years and its first since the deaths of not only Weiland, but his replacement Chester Bennington, Dean DeLeo’s guitar riffs and the rhythm section of bassist Robert DeLeo and drummer Eric Kretz are as solid as ever. But something’s missing.
That’s not to put the blame on new singer Jeff Gutt, who has a strong voice and his own style. However, the combination just doesn’t have the same spark.
The new STP starts off well with “Middle of Nowhere,” built on a massive wall of guitars and thunderous drums. Gutt’s soaring vocals nicely play off Dean DeLeo’s wailing guitar solos in “Guilty.” The first single, “Meadow,” has plenty of grungy swagger and Gutt hits some Weiland-esque notes, but it never catches fire even with another cool DeLeo solo. Maybe it’s the sweet harmonies and the mention of sunshine?
Oddly enough, the band seems to fare better when it sounds least like STP. The acoustic jangle of “Thought She’d Be Mine” sounds more like the ’90s psychedelic pop of Jellyfish. “The Art of Letting Go” conjures up ’80s power ballads. Nothing wrong with that vein, especially when it results in catchy songs like “Finest Hour,” but it’s not on par with 1994’s “Interstate Love Song.”
With “Stone Temple Pilots,” the band is moving past its years of tumult and loss; maybe it’s only natural that they gravitate toward more sweetness and peace.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
• Jack White, “Boarding House Reach”
• Lissie, “Castles”
• Guided by Voices, “Space Gun”
• Toni Braxton, “Sex and Cigarettes”
• George Ezra, “Staying at Tamara’s”