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Brandi Carlile Goes Straight for the Gut

In the course of a single song, Brandi Carlile can seduce you with a whisper and then go right for your gut.

On the title track of The Story, her second album, Carlile proves she isn't afraid to really put herself out there — even with something as naked and honest as her voice cracking.

"That's the thing about singing live in the studio," she says. "Whatever happens is the truth, and you can't change it."

Producer T-Bone Burnett — who has helmed records for Counting Crows and Sam Phillips as well as the Grammy Award-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack — told Carlile to concentrate on her singing and her lyrics.

The advice worked. The Story broods with a powerful confidence and earthiness, improving on the potential of her self-titled debut. Taking away her guitar helped her develop the vocal style that channels both Thom Yorke and Patsy Cline. This is the voice that drives Carlile's music.

If the lead singer of Radiohead and country music's legendary chanteuse seem an unlikely mix, Carlile's upbringing should explain. She grew up immersed in country-music culture — her grandfather was a yodeler and bluegrass-country singer, and his mother a saloon-style pianist.

Early in her teenage years, Carlile came to understand her love for Elton John, Queen and the Seattle grunge scene, and she vigorously tried to get the country out of her voice and personality. Thankfully, as time wore on, the yodel — and the heartbreak of country music — came back around.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.