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There’s an off-handedness to the title of By the Way, I Forgive You, Brandi Carlile’s sixth album—as though absolution is being offered almost as an afterthought. But that’s not the story the music tells. While many of these songs deal with wounds and betrayals, Carlile inhabits a role of poise and command. Throughout, the singer-songwriter sounds resolved to make amends and move on with her life, letting go of regrets and finally letting those old wounds heal. The forgiveness she offers here isn’t a reluctant or half-hearted gesture, but something powerful and proactive.
It’s fitting that these songs of self-assurance are married to the boldest, most robust production of any Carlile album since 2007’s T-Bone Burnett-produced The Story, which marries acoustic intimacy to arena-rock grandeur. Produced by Americana mastermind Dave Cobb in tandem with singer-songwriter Shooter Jennings, By the Way, I Forgive You frames Carlile’s gnarled roots-rock and folksy storytelling in grand orchestral arrangements from the late Paul Buckmaster, the famous conductor and arranger behind masterworks by Elton John, Leonard Cohen, Miles Davis, and the Rolling Stones.
The result is an album that manages to sound like a wide-screen epic without ever losing sight of the small-scale human drama at its center or Carlile’s country roots. There’s room here for songs like the wistful country-soul of “Everytime I Hear That Song”—where the string section provides subtle accents but never overshadow the plaintive piano or high-and-lonesome harmony vocals—as well as the spare closer, “Party of One,” where Carlile’s voice and piano are bathed in a luxurious symphonic arrangement.