When she decides to really go for it at the high point of a tune, her voice can very nearly knock people over. Pair that with melodies that people want to hear over and over (as in “The Story,” which you probably heard on this commercial or in “Grey’s Anatomy”), and you’ve got songs that, well, soundtrack car commercials and TV shows.
The full-band arrangements to her acoustic-based songs occasionally match her vocal bombast, but “occasionally” is not enough. For “Live at Benaroya Hall With The Seattle Symphony,” Carlile goes all Metallica and enlists an entire orchestra. And instead of being a bloated catastrophe (as is the case with most “and strings!” recordings), it feels like they should have been there all along.
“The Story” gets the full strings-and-horns treatment, and the result is an impressive take on an already-great song. “I Will,” the folksiest cut of the bunch, feels like a lost Simon and Garfunkel tune with the tasteful strings — unsurprisingly, there’s a beautiful version of S&G’s “The Sound of Silence” included, although without Carlile’s vocals. The strings do feel a bit out of place in the rock-oriented “Looking Out,” but missing one still gets you an A.
The nature of the recording may bug listeners: This is a true concert document. There are errors. Carlile gets haphazard with her vocal performance in several tunes, sliding up to high notes and mashing other notes when she hits them. This is most noticeable in “The Story,” when several critical notes seemingly turn into yodels. Part of it is her idiosyncratic singing style; part of it is just frustrating.
Still, when Carlile gives her voice full allowance to be itself on her cover of “Hallelujah,” it fits perfectly for the broken power of the tune. Things aren’t perfect; they’re still beautiful. —Stephen Carradini