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Carlile warms hearts with empathetic thoughts

House of Blues, Anaheim, Cal., December 13, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Brandi Carlile, dressed festively with a Santa hat, began her mid-week concert set with Joni Mitchell's "River" and closed with the carol "O Holy Night." In between, she sang about an equal measure of old and new songs. And on this first night of a short acoustic tour, Carlile was both in fine spirits and voice.

Two songs from the upcoming "By the Way, I Forgive You" album comprised the centerpiece of a most satisfying concert. "The Joke," which she dedicated to anyone that's ever been abused or misunderstood, is a full-blown orchestrated ballad on the new album. But even her stripped-down, acoustic trio version was impactful. Carlile's powerful vocal, with its distinctively mountain catch, carried this live version wonderfully. "Every Time I Hear That Song," also from the new full-length, is all about how music can be a painful reminder of a broken relationship.

Another new one, "The Mother," found Carlile grappling with the complexities of motherhood. She also spoke between songs about the difficulties experienced by same-sex couples, especially when it comes to discussing parenting with other moms and dads. Other heterosexual couples sometimes don't know what to make of Carlile. Is she a second mom? A dad? Something altogether indescribable? The cute little subject of "The Mother," daughter Evangeline (dressed as a princess), joined Carlile to help sing "Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer," for a sweetly moving family moment during the encore.

Carlile also brought out Janice Freeman, who had memorably sung "The Story" on The Voice, for a special duet, before closing the show with "O Holy Night." It felt right to end with that particular song because many moments during the evening, indeed, felt sacred.

Savannah Conley - who is, like Carlile produced by Dave Cobb - opened the night with some energetic and personal folk-country.

'Tis the season to be jolly, as the old song says, but Carlile's songs especially emotionally deep, rather than simply jovial. And while there were plenty of lighter moments, this show sent the audience away with warmed hearts and empathetic thoughts.