Carlisle has certainly beat the odds herself. She has already achieved several career milestones as a young independent that elude far more experienced artists. Her debut studio release, â€œFive Star Day,â€ garnered considerable airplay on commercial country stations in her home state of Montana, while also ranking 13th on the folk-dj list, which surveys public radio around the world. The CD was one of five nominees for Best Country Album in the Independent Music Awards, and the single â€œMontana,â€ was a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. In addition, Carlisle was one of five nominees for Best Emerging Artist in this yearâ€™s Folk Alliance Awards. She has toured relentlessly to support her new project, from British Folk Festivals to an opener for Richie Havens at the Birchmere Theater.
All the while, the public school graduate from Missoula, Montanaâ€™s Hellgate High School has maintained an outstanding academic record at Harvard University. She was one of just 24 members of her class elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and she is expected to graduate with high honors this June. Her senior thesis in ethnomusicology, a study of the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, has been nominated for a Hoopes Prize, Harvardâ€™s highest honor for undergraduate scholarship.
â€œFor me, being a Harvard student and a country singer-songwriter makes perfect sense,â€ Carlisle says. â€œThe things I have learned on the road and from the people I meet through music have definitely enriched my scholarship. And the things I have learned here at Harvard, both in and out of the classroom, have made me a better songwriter and a better person.â€
What critics have noticed in Carlisleâ€™s writing and stage presence is a powerful ability to erase the boundaries between country, pop, and acoustic music, red state and blue state. The Boston Globe calls Five Star Day â€œA collection of original songs that cull the twang and heart of country music, the soul-searching of folk, and the lift of pop.â€ Northeast Performer wrote that â€œcountry might not be the word for Carlisleâ€™s sound; perhaps a more fitting term might be cross-country, as Carlisle brings her sound across the continent and back again." And Country Standard Time offered the following praise: "Whether writing about the "silver blue sky" of her native land ("Montana"), potentially life-changing decisions that appear out of the blue ("Don't Think Too Hard") or growing up in "Flyover Country" ("9/8 Central"), Carlisle's writing is crisp and insightful beyond her years and totally absent the narcissism and introspection that so often afflicts the modern singer-songwriter crowd."
â€œNothing makes me happier than to be the vehicle for cultural exchange,â€ Carlisle says. â€œIf I take back a little bit of Cambridge with me every time I go West, if I convince one person that East coast people arenâ€™t out-of-touch snobs, Iâ€™m doing my job. If I bring a little of Montana here, convince a few people that the heartland isnâ€™t just a bunch of dumb guys drinking too much beer in old pickups, Iâ€™m doing my job.â€ Carlisle describes country music as her native blues form, a music that cuts to the core of human experience and allows people to connect on a deeper level. â€œEveryone understands what it feels like to be in love, to miss your hometown, or to suffer a heartbreak,â€ Carlisle says.
Perhaps the most powerful testament to Carlisleâ€™s cross cultural approach is her team of supporters. â€œPeople often ask me how Iâ€™ve been able to do so many things in these last four years,â€ Carlisle says. â€œThe answer is, â€˜with a lot of help.â€™â€
First and foremost Carlisle credits producer Russell Wolff, whom she met at an open mic at Club Passim when she was a college freshman. An alt-pop songwriter from New York, whose songwriting and performance style has been compared to bands like the Barenaked Ladies, Wolff was not an obvious collaborator for the idealistic Montana country songwriter. Yet the two shared a basic love of pop music and a gutsy approach. â€œRussell is one of the few people Iâ€™ve met who doesnâ€™t worry about conventional obstacles,â€ Carlisle says.
Wolff introduced Carlisle to the other essential component of her recent success, Neale Eckstein. A house concert presenter, producer, mixer, and studio engineer, Eckstein is well known in the acoustic music community for not only helping artists make records, but for helping them promote their work as well. He listened to Wolffâ€™s praise of Carlisle during the several months that the two were at work on Wolffâ€™s record. Finally, in the summer of 2004, he met Carlisle in person and heard her play. Within a few days, he agreed to work with Carlisle and Wolff on Carlisleâ€™s first major studio project. â€œNeale and his wife Laurie became like my family away from home,â€ Carlisle says. â€œI donâ€™t know what I would have done without them.â€
Carlisle and her team of supporters will have much to celebrate this June 8, at Harvardâ€™s commencement ceremony. Not only will Carlisle be graduating, Wolff will also receive his degree from the Harvard Extension School, after finishing up a long-postponed college education with three years of evening classes. Along with their band, the two kick off an ambitious international summer tour, which includes several festivals both in the United States and the UK, as well as dates in Germany, St. Lucia, Montana, and Texas.
Next fall, Carlisle will continue to play live and begin work on a follow up album. But she will also remain at Harvard as house masterâ€™s assistant and an advisor to other young songwriters and musicians who want to pursue a career even as they pursue their liberal arts education. â€œNothing is impossible,â€ she says. â€œOr at least, I havenâ€™t managed to find it yet.â€
Check out the artist's website:
1. We'll See
2. Let the Sun Shine In
3. Boy in Indiana
4. To Belong
5. Never Promised
6. When You Turn 18
7. Faces of Strangers
8. Give Me Your Hand
10. The Water is Wide