“Cover Stories” features renditions of songs from Brandi Carlile’s “The Story” by such big stars as Dolly Parton, Adele and Kris Kristofferson.
Of course they held the listening party for Brandi Carlile’s new record at The Carlile Room, the Pine Street restaurant Tom Douglas named after her, fan that he is.
But while a select group of fans picked from the buffet and bartenders served drinks named after the songs on the record, Carlile stood in a corner, talking about the April 7 U.S. airstrike in Syria.
“The first thing I thought was, ‘Were there any civilian casualties?’ They said there couldn’t be,” Carlile said the other day. “I don’t think that’s true.
“But part of me is really proud that the American mind is finally ready to be tuned to that being the first question to any military action: ‘Were there families nearby?’
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“That should be our first question,” she said. “And that’s why we made this record.”
“Cover Stories” is an all-star tribute collection of covers of Carlile’s breakthrough album of songs, “The Story,” produced by the legendary T. Bone Burnett.
And it is the way she chose to mark the 10th anniversary of the album — turning it into a fundraiser.
All proceeds from the record — to be released May 2 — will go to the nonprofit War Child, which benefits children living in war-torn countries like Syria.
In a foreword he provided at her request, former President Barack Obama wrote: “As an artist, Brandi Carlile is using her talent on behalf of the most vulnerable among us, children living in areas of conflict. She reminds us that, together, we can build for our children a more just, peaceful world.”
The artists who signed on to do their own renditions are Carlile’s idols, people she reached out to and then prayed would come through: Dolly Parton. Adele. Kris Kristofferson.
And they did. Every one.
Carlile was “profoundly moved” by Kristofferson’s cover of “Turpentine.”
“Just seeing as how he’s 81 and hearing those lyrics,” she said. “I feel like I was hearing them for the first time.”
It was also the first time she realized that by asking people to cover her songs, she was letting them go, handing them over to interpretation by others.
In turn, they surprised her.
“People were going to get involved in this project in a really anonymous and organic way,” she said.
Unbeknownst to her, country-music star Chris Stapleton stepped in to play guitar on Kristofferson’s track.
And when Anderson East turned in his cover of “Josephine,” Carlile heard Miranda Lambert singing harmony.
Parton responded to Carlile’s request within 24 hours — “and on Dolly Parton letterhead,” Carlile told the listening crowd.
“Was it scented?” someone asked.
“Not scented,” Carlile said, “but it had ‘Love, Dolly’ and ‘Dream big’ in big, loopy letters.”
Pearl Jam put a punk spin on “Again Today” — and in the process, cut a minute off the song’s regular time.
“It’s these people who don’t want to make a scene, but they wanted to help in their own way,” Carlile said. “So the contributors to the album have been more like activists than musicians.”
She loves that the artists who participated come from different places, but came together for the same cause.
“Different political persuasions, regions, backgrounds, generations,” Carlile said, “which is the gift this album has to offer everybody.
“If there is one thing this album does, it serves to depoliticize babies, which is my goal.”
The album was two years in the works, and the final holdout — and great hope — was Adele.
The British singer was white-hot, touring and caring for a new child. Getting her to contribute “Hiding My Heart” was a dream that seemed out of reach.
Carlile reached out to the music community and her fan base, seeking help.
At the same time, Macklemore was also trying to get Adele to sing on what would become his latest record, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made.” She shot him down.
A few weeks later, Adele’s manager Jonathan Dickens called Carlile and said what she was hoping to hear — and can recite from memory:
“He said, ‘I’ve spoken to Adele, she’s 100 percent in, you’re doing a great job. Thanks for asking us.’
“I was freaking out,” Carlile said.
Even better, Adele pulled down access to the song in Europe and the U.K.
“So the only way anyone can access it is through this record,” Carlile said. “We took that as her allegiance to us, and we’re really proud.”
This isn’t Carlile’s first foray into charity work.
Nine years ago she established the Looking Out Foundation, which takes $1 from every ticket sold to fund grants to various causes. The foundation also partnered with the Seattle Police Department, The Indigo Girls and two Seattle self-defense studios to support a violence-prevention initiative called the Fight the Fear Campaign.
And Carlile has donated her time and talents to “The If Project,” which helps women behind bars aim for better lives.
Her focus on War Child UK and the struggles of children came with the birth of her daughter, Evangeline, now almost 3. (Carlile and her wife, Catherine, were married in September 2012.)
“That gave me a heightened awareness of what refugees go through, about what it must be like for a parent who loves their child every bit as much as I love my child,” she said, “who has to flee with that child in the middle of the night without their clothes and shoes and toys and food and things that make them healthy.
“And then to end up in a refugee camp, sometimes indefinitely,” she continued. “Sometimes years. And to have no support or access to counseling or therapy or education. Protection. Placement.
“I can’t have Evangeline in the world and put her to bed in her safe little bedroom every night and not wonder what it must be like in Syria and Jordan and Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“Just … do something,” Carlile remembered thinking to herself. “And we have a way now.”