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In 2005, I was at the tail end of what seemed to be an interminable exile just outside Philadelphia. Though it was pretty much an unnerving ordeal, from sunup to sundown, I maintained relative sanity by keeping my cracker-box radio tuned to WXPN, one of the nation's premier alternative radio stations.
And among the many acts I had the pleasure of discovering through those airwaves was Brandi Carlile, who in November that year had become one of the station's coveted "Artists to Watch." For a new act at that time, it was akin to being anointed. Carlile fully reaped the benefits of that distinction, and her indie-world star quickly rose.
Five years later, Carlile's career has grown to fit the enormity of her talent. Back then, she was working on her eponymous debut, which featured standout songs such as "Fall Apart Again" and "Hiding My Heart Away." They were intimate whispers that spoke of love's inherent roar, tunes that could tear at the marrow of one's being.
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And by the end of 2006, she'd gone from supporting names such as Chris Isaak, Tori Amos, and Shawn Colvin to headlining. So by the time the T-Bone Burnett-produced The Story hit the next year, Carlile had a bona fide following and a veritable place at pop's top table.
This year finds her on an extensive second leg of a tour in support of her latest album, this year's Give Up the Ghost. It brings her to the Culture Room this Saturday, and on the Cayamo Cruise, which departs from Miami this Sunday. And if Carlile's excitement over the first-leg highlights is any indication, her fans are in for quite a shindig.
"We played at the Beacon Theatre [in New York City], which is one of those venues I've always wanted to headline," she says. "I realized we were doing something really big. And everyone in there was totally out of their element. It was like a giant redneck party. It was awesome!"
With the Orbisonesque "Dreams" used to launch the series The Deep End, the stripped-bare "Oh Dear" another recipient of Grey's Anatomy's aural largesse, and the road-weary "Dying Day" a Starbucks iTunes "Pick of the Week," she has certainly received some mighty positioning.
But it's Carlile's work on behalf of the not so mighty that seems to most determinately drive her. Over the past couple of years, she has performed on behalf of nonprofits including Reverb, Honor the Earth, the American Diabetes Foundation, Eden Florida, and many others. So many, in fact, that Carlile has now started a foundation of her own in order to better direct her efforts.
"The Looking Out Foundation we set up so instead of getting just a little bit involved with these huge nonprofits, now we can get really involved with the issues directly," she says. "Our foundation serves as a way for us to get our hands dirty and be involved with grassroots fundraising."