Brandi Carlile is skilled with a machete. The multiple Grammy Award singer and songwriter has cleared miles of trails at her homestead in Washington State.

This surprising reveal is just one of many in Carlile’s absorbing memoir, “Broken Horses.” The 40-year-old artist has smoothly transferred her songwriting talents into prose for the story of her chaotic and full life.

Born poor with a loving but alcohol troubled father, Carlile survived a coma inducing case of meningitis at the age of 5. Her mother formed a country and western act with Brandi and her younger brother and sister. They often performed at the Northwest Grand Ole Opry in Auburn, Washington where Brandi made her solo debut at the age of 9. She reminisces, “The lights created a glare in my glasses and I couldn’t see the crowd of 250 people, but I could feel them. I knew I had their affection and encouragement. I never wanted to leave that stage.”

An indifferent dyslexic student, she and her brother Jay both dropped out of high school in their sophomore year and began hanging out with various local bands. A new path was beginning.

Carlile deftly describes her slow, steady ascent in the music business. She began making a small amount of money busking in front of the famous Pike Place Market in Seattle. She also sang for meals at nearby restaurants, with a bonus of a small paycheck if her performances brought in additional customers.

In 1991 Carlile began jamming with twin brothers Tim and Phil Hanseroth. This trio became the eponymously named group, Brandi Carlile. Their first album was released in 2005 to rave reviews and the subsequent six albums propelled Brandi, Phil and Tim to the pinnacle of the Americana genre of music, Brandi was the most nominated female artist at the 2019 Grammy Awards with six nominations.

Among Carlile’s earliest influencers were Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker. Amazingly, she has been able to collaborate on projects with all of these icons. An avid champion for women’s power and equality, she co-founded the all female group The Highwomen in 2019 and spearheaded the first all women main stage roster at the Newport Folk Festival that same year, with Dolly Parton as a surprise addition.

An important, life shaping part of Carlile’s journey was the realization of her sexual preference. She is now married to Catherine Shepard who was Paul McCartney’s personal assistant for a decade. Catherine gave birth to the couple’s daughters, Evangeline and Elijah. Brandi’s longtime friend since 7th grade, David, was the proud male donor and now father to both children. Catherine oversees the Brandi Carlile Looking Out Foundation, which has raised over $2 million for grassroots causes.

The author’s descriptions of her emergence as gay, and the relationships which followed, are honest and enlightening.

That title, “Broken Horses?” Carlile explains it, and much more in the brief prologue:

“I’m in bed with my wife Catherine, and our two little girls with their sweet smelling heads snuggled between us. We are drinking our morning coffee and continuing a five-day discussion about what I should name this book. “Heroes and Songs?” Too reductive and music-y. “The End of Being Alone?” Too depressing. “Mainstream Kid?” Too insignificant. “The Story?” Really.

Then I hear Evangeline’s quiet voice ask, “Mama, remember when you were poor, how could you afford horses?”

Me: “I couldn’t. I was given broken ones.”

Evangeline, “You should name your book Broken Horses.”

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