4 to Watch: Brandi Carlile

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Music Features Brandi Carlile
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Hometown: Ravensdale, Wash. (between Seattle and Mt. Rainier)

Fun facts: For prepubescent Brandi Carlile, it was all about the twang. Her first concert was country mother/daughter act The Judds. By age 10, she played a show with country great Shelly West.

Why she’s worth watching: Already a spellbinding live act, opening tour dates for Shawn Colvin and Melissa Etheridge, Carlile has sharpened her songwriting skills for her major-label debut.

For fans of: Indigo Girls, Jeff Buckley, Lucinda Williams

It’s not quite Walden Woods

, Brandi Carlile points out, but she does live in a remote area in a log cabin. “Montana logs,” she says proudly. “Big giants. All logs. No other materials. No sheetrock. No wall-to-wall carpeting.”

The cabin, on five acres, is surrounded by so many lakes that locals ran out of names, instead referring to them by numbers: Lake 12. Lake 15. And so on. Carlile has a horse, a Doberman, a cat, an old piano and her guitars. “This just fits my lifestyle,” Carlile says. “I like quiet. I like animals. And I fish like crazy. To me, this is home. This is where I’m comfortable.”

This natural philosophy carries over to her music. Carlile’s self-titled debut is filled with straight-ahead acoustic rock—guitar, drums, bass and her soaring vocals. Not too much decoration. Definitely no wall-to-wall carpeting. “I go for a real classic vibe with my songs,” says Carlile, whose raspy voice sits up front on each track. “You can’t tell how old I am or what generation I’m from by listening to me. I like that. I want this music to sound just as good 20 years from now as it does now. I want it to be timeless.”

That timelessness has already paid off. An A&R rep from Columbia’s Red Ink division caught her wowing an older crowd as she opened for James Taylor. A few nights later, she was at a small café, playing to a much younger audience and delivering the same jaw-dropping results. Shortly after that she was signed.