Broken Horses: a book review and Aesthete Tea pairing
Updated: Nov 4, 2021
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Brandi Carlile: Who is she, and why do I love her?
It's hard, perhaps impossible, for me to review this memoir by Americana singer Brandi Carlile without at least touching on my own history as one of her biggest fans for more than a decade. Sometimes you come across artists who seem to be speaking right to you, whose words or music express something deep inside you that you never knew needed expressing. I feel that way about Virginia Woolf's writing, and I feel that way about Brandi Carlile's music.
I have loved Brandi Carlile for a long time. Like, a really long time. I even remember the exact moment I first heard that memorable, dynamic, chill-inducing voice. I was going about my business with MTV's Artists You Should Know playing in the background (yes, it was that long ago) when I heard that voice and was absolutely mesmerized.
It was "The Story," Brandi's first song that really put her on anyone's radar. There she was strumming her guitar on stage in this enormous, beautiful auditorium, Phil and Tim Hanseroth aka "the Twins" behind her, and they were rocking out to an empty room, playing just for you. As soon as Brandi got to the final chorus of the song, her voice cracking and breaking free from its previous composure, flying free and wild. I knew she was something really special and immediately looked up her then- two albums.
Over the coming years, I followed her career, bought her albums, and attended two of her concerts. I should tell you I'm not a big concert-goer (too loud, too many people, yes yes I'm a thousand years old), but if you ever get a chance to attend a Brandi Carlile concert, you absolutely shouldn't pass it up. You're not just going to hear some recreation of her latest album and wonder if it's pre-recorded; Brandi and the Twins are just genuine musicians and stellar performers. The energy they bring to the stage is electric, and the music, even when you know it so well, is full of new twists and surprises. Don't even get me started on the songs they choose to cover.
Broken Horses: A Memoir book review
Okay, okay, okay, but what about the BOOK, you ask. I thought this was a book review, not a poor man's Rolling Stones music review. Well now that I've established myself as a completely uncool superfan of Brandi Carlile's, it will come as no surprise to you that I found Broken Horses to be an absolute treasure.
The book covers the highlights and the lowlights of her life so far, her first 40 years on the planet. What a rich and complicated life! Born in the country, hospitalized at the age of four with meningococcal meningitis. She grew up a fighter (literally), one of the boys, struggling in school because of dyslexia and literacy challenges. A high school dropout. A passionate performer. An uncompromising artist. Sometimes an asshole. A Christian. A Lesbian. A friend. A nobody. A multiple Grammy-award winning artist. A wife. A mother. A philanthropist.
I love Brandi's honesty in sharing her journey as honestly as she does in Broken Horses, even when it doesn't paint her in the most flattering light. She owns her own faults, but she also owns her strengths, and she gives credit to all the people who inspired and mentored her along the way, including Elton John and Joni Mitchell.
(to get a feel for the energy of a Brandi Carlile concert, watch the short clip above from her By the Way, I Forgive You tour. I dragged my friend to it, who expected a lone folk singer strumming a guitar on a bar stool. Ohhhh, no.)
Because she is someone I've admired for so long, I kept finding myself internally willing her to be this perfect person, to make the same choices in a situation that I would, to be someone I could always defend and look up to. Instead, Brandi refuses to satisfy that, and the effect is one that is much more real, much more relatable, and much more moving. In the end, my love and respect for her have only grown.
Brandi recounts many a falling out with people throughout her musical career. However, things tend to come full circle; in her own words,
"I'm always led back to unfinished business in the end. Especially when there's love and dissent."
Just as you will read about fallings out, you will also read about the fallings back together, about forgiveness and growth.
Brandi's commitment to portraying herself with as much accuracy as possible is powerfully demonstrated by the cover art on her latest studio album, By the Way, I Forgive You (2018). It's this stunning portrait painting of Brandi's face that I've always found striking, but what I didn't realize until reading her memoir was that she commissioned the painting and refused to see the result until it was already printed on all the albums.
Can you imagine?
This might be Brandi Carlile's first book, but it's not her first rodeo. She's been telling stories for decades through her music, songs full of this rough-edged energy and enigmatic, beautiful lyrics. Songs that have grown and changed right along with her.
Learning the specific life experiences that shaped the music and lyrics written by herself and her musical partners Tim and Phil, fleshes out the music in a new way, deepening a listener's appreciation and understanding of each song and album.
If you weren't a fan of Brandi's before you started this book, I can pretty much promise you will be at least on some level by the end.
But beyond gaining an appreciation for a seriously under-appreciated musical artist, this memoir has that quality of every great memoir I've ever read... it takes you deep into yourself and inspires you to examine your own life, who you are, what mistakes you've made, what's important, and what you know to be true.
Oddly enough, it was the acknowledgements section at the end of the book that left me with tears in my eyes.
"With these words I have healed deep wounds and feelings of inadequacy within myself. If you get this far... if you're still reading this..."
I won't give you the rest of that quote. You'll need to get there yourself.
Broken Horses: Audiobook or Hard Copy?
Honestly, this is a question to which there is no wrong answer, and I've now purchased both.
In the physical book, you get to enjoy the many photographs with Brandi's hand-written captions at the end of each chapter.
In the audiobook, you get to hear the mesmerizing voice of Brandi reading her own words, AND you get a bonus chapter at the end of new recordings of many of the songs talked about in the book.
I will say, though, that if you've not listened to any Brandi Carlile music before approaching this book, make sure you listen to her original studio albums in addition to the songs at the end of the book. The music chapter is very stripped down and bare, which is lovely, but also doesn't fully capture the dynamic nature of her music. So listen to both.
Aesthete tea pairing: a black- and LGBTQ-owned tea company
Brandi hails from Seattle, so I thought it only appropriate to pair her book with a product from a small tea company based out of the Northwestern United States.
Aesthete Tea is a woman-owned, black-owned, queer-owned tea company located in Portland, Oregon. Aesthete's loose-leaf teas are all sourced directly from farms and blended by a folk healer and herbalist. Their selection of high-quality teas is designed to promote health and holistic wellness by "bringing ancient respect, knowledge, and power of the earth to the modern world."
I suggest pairing Brandi Carlile's Broken Horses book with the tea blend dubbed Sexual Healing from Aesthete Tea. This is an herbal tea blend with ingredients intended to support balanced hormones and improved libido and circulation*.
(*Remember that as with any herbal product, statements such as these are educational only and have not been evaluated by the FDA).
Sexual Healing is not your run-of-the-mill herbal tea you can find just anywhere. It has a really unique blend of ingredients, including damiana (a wild shrub native to Central America which folk healers use as an aphrodisiac) and ashwagandha (the so-called "royal herb" that's all the rage these days after multiple scientific studies have shown its ability to reduce stress and anxiety, among other potential benefits).
Immediately upon opening the bag of this herbal tea, one catches an aroma with an alluring unfamiliarity. Familiar notes like cinnamon and nutmeg mix with the other elements in this tea blend, and the overall effect is a truly unique sensory impact.
This one has a long steep time, recommended 12 minutes. Once brewed, the aroma becomes even more complex and inviting. The exact scent is difficult to pin down, evolving with every inhalation. When you finally get around to actually drinking this tea, it is everything you want it to be: warming and soothing while also stirring and invigorating.
As one who tries a lot of different types of tea, I can say that this one is truly unlike any other I've ever encountered. To fully appreciate it, you'll have to try it yourself.
I selected the Aesthete Tea company for this book and tea pairing for a number of reasons:
The tea is absolutely top-notch. I've tried three different ones now and have been impressed with each.
I love seeking out and spotlighting smaller tea businesses. The larger companies can be great, but the smaller ones can be hard to find, and hard to find reviews on. So if you're looking for an Aesthete Tea Review, here it is.
It seemed only fitting to select both a woman-owned and LGBTQ+ owned company both in honor of Brandi's memoir that highlights finding her place as a lesbian woman in her family, faith, and the music industry, and in honor of Pride Month.
So if you want to support the LGBTQ+ community this Pride Month, one of the most impactful ways to do so is to spend your dollars at LGBTQ+ owned businesses.
If you follow the recommendations in this post, for example, you can support an LGBTQ+ author and musician, Brandi Carlile, by purchasing her book; you can purchase it through an LGBTQ+ owned bookstore; and you can purchase a delicious tea from an LGBTQ+ owned tea company.
More about Aesthete Tea
The owner of Aesthete Tea, Briana Thornton, started the company in 2017 with her mother by quitting her job, working out of her kitchen, and financing with self-belief, hard work, and credit cards. The business has grown from selling at farmer's markets to now being available nationally and internationally.
You can order any of their teas from their online shop (shipping was very fast and adorably packaged, including a sample of one of the teas I was eyeing but didn't order).
If you find yourself in the Portland area, they will soon be opening a teahouse, featuring hot and cold tea, small bites, and gifts, open seven days a week from 7 am to 7 pm. Check out their Instagram page for the latest updates and anticipated opening date.
If you want to get an idea for the kind of passion and dedication the people behind Aesthete Tea put into their company, look no further than their 4-year anniversary celebration post on Instagram:
"If Aesthete is proof of anything, it is that you should always follow your passion and if you do something from the soul, stay grateful to the universe and give back more than you take, things will work out."
Bonus moment: Brandi Carlile at the Grammy Awards
This review is waxing long, I know! It's hard for me to abbreviate my love and appreciation for Brandi Carlile, her book, this particular tea, or my belief in supporting womxn-owned, LGBTQ-owned, and BIPOC-owned small businesses.
So rather than including this with the rest of the Broken Horses book review, I decided to tack on my excitement about Brandi Carlile at the 61st Grammy Awards at the end.
I don't typically watch the Grammy's, but I did this particular year (2019), because I was so ecstatic to see her, a relatively unknown musician, absolutely blow away a crowd of famous musical artists who'd likely never heard a song of hers before. There's a special kind of satisfaction and oddness when you see them as mesmerized as I have been by her for so long, including the tattooed face of Post Malone sitting there bobbing his head along because you know he's feeling it.
I loved reading about this moment in Broken Horses, and was surprised and endeared to learn of how nervous she was about hitting the final note (something I in my ignorance and awe assumed would never make her break a sweat).
Give it a watch, and let yourself be carried away.
Have you read Broken Horses yet? What's the best book you've read by a musical artist or celebrity? Let me know in the comments!
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