Stars aligning for Brandi Carlile 

click to enlarge Brandi Carlile - COURTESY IMAGE
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  • Brandi Carlile

For a full week, folk-rocker Brandi Carlile tried to conceptualize a video treatment for “That Wasn’t Me,” a gospel-toned piano ballad from her new album, “Bear Creek.”

She was being extra careful because the song is about a close family member, and about recovering from damage done through addiction. She says, “No matter how difficult the situation is, the inevitable outcome has to be forgiveness.”

Glancing around backstage at a Johnny Cash 80th birthday concert she played in Austin, Texas, she spotted her clip’s prospective star — legendary Texas troubadour Kris Kristofferson.

In retrospect, Carlile chuckles at her temerity. “I don’t know why I set my sights that high, but I thought it’s obviously Kris — he’s the guy,” says the dulcet-throated warbler, who appears at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga on Thursday. 

In a heartfelt letter, she talked Kristofferson into playing an orange-jumpsuited prisoner who gets paroled, then has trouble adjusting to the outside world in “That Wasn’t Me.”

What words persuaded him? “I said some personal stuff about my life and what caused me to write the song, I told him how much he meant to me as a songwriter and a mentor, and I asked him politely if he would be a part of the video,” she says. “And the rest is history.”

Although Carlile and Kristofferson don’t interact in the video, the shoot was a different story. They hung out on the set for two days, drank whiskey, talked politics and discussed books such as “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith” by controversial pastor Rob Bell.

“He tells a lot of stories about knowing Johnny Cash, Janis Joplin, about writing songs,” she says. “But he’s almost too cool to give advice — he seems to really want everyone to make their own way.”

The log-cabin-dwelling Washingtonian, however, has managed to make her own way quite nicely since her eponymous 2005 debut and 2007 breakthrough, “The Story.”

On “Bear Creek,” she settled into an Appalachian-rustic groove on banjo-infused hoedowns such as “Raise Hell” and “Hard Way Home.” 

She also has launched her own philanthropic Looking Out Foundation, through which she met her fiancée, Catherine Shepherd, who oversaw Paul McCartney’s various charities.

“Through the blessing of Sir Paul, she’s now running my foundation,” Carlile says.

Stars seem drawn to the artist. Her childhood idol Elton John befriended her, as did Dave Matthews, for whom she just opened. “Every night, Dave would introduce the band, then tell the audience to go out and buy our record,” she says. “Then he’d join me onstage for ‘Angel From Montgomery.’ That guy is salt of the Earth!”

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Tom Lanham

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