The suggestion that a contemporary artist possesses almost all of Patsy Cline’s vocal prowess and emotive power may be considered heretical hyperbole. Yet in an appearance Monday at the Beaumont Club, Brandi Carlile demonstrated that she might eventually merit consideration alongside the late legend as one of popular music’s most remarkable voices.
Although the Seattle-based Carlile frequently performs in Kansas City, the format of her current “Alone and Live For the First Time” tour allowed her expansive voice to be examined without the clamor of her usual backing band. Carlile performed 18 songs that showcased her exceptional range for an audience of more than 700. Effortlessly shifting between a husky ache, blue yodel and raspy shout, Carlile’s voice was a thing of wonder.
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Beginning with a strong debut in 2005, the singer-songwriter has released four albums. She’s backed by the Seattle Symphony on her ambitious new live album. Carlile’s accompaniment Monday consisted of her own guitar and occasional assistance from the fine opening act the Secret Sisters. While her set included rewarding versions of her most popular songs, including “Turpentine” and “The Story,” Carlile’s choice of covers defined her performance.
Entirely devoid of showy flourishes, Carlile’s plaintive rendition of the Willie Nelson-penned Cline hit “Crazy” was the evening’s artistic centerpiece. In her introduction to a stunning rendition of the Roy Orbison hit “It’s Over,” Carlile referenced the similarly gifted vocalist k.d. lang As she uncovered entirely new nuances in the song, it became clear that Carlile no longer deserves to be considered an inferior version of the Canadian star.
The inclusion of renditions of Radiohead’s “Creep,” John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery” and Stevie Nick’s “Landslide” may have revealed a lack of imagination, but they also showed that Carlile’s versatile voice makes even painfully obvious and tired material seem fresh.
The 45-minute opening set by the Secret Sisters, a pair of siblings from Alabama, also included several cover songs. A heartfelt version of the Everly Brothers hit “Devoted to You” allowed the women to demonstrate their enchanting family harmonies. Much of the audience, however, was unimpressed by the duo’s bucolic charm. A rendition of Cline’s “Leaving’ on Your Mind” was drowned out by raucous audience chatter.
Even when the Secret Sisters later joined Carlile for the seasonal song “Christmas 1984,” many in the audience immediately resumed their conversations. The room finally fell silent as Carlile and the Secret Sisters concluded the concert with a solemn un-amplified reading of “Amazing Grace.” It was the first moment in the evening in which the latter act enjoyed a reception commensurate with its talent.