Brandi Carlile (photo credit: Jeremy Cowart)
Brandi Carlile (photo credit: Jeremy Cowart)

Is stardom a prison for pop singers?

Not for Brandi Carlile, whose raucous version of Johnny Cash’s “Folson Prison Blues” is a liberating anthem.

Saturday night at the Paramount Theatre, the Maple Valley singer-songwriter kicked off her encore with Cash’s “Jackson” and “Folson Prison Blues,” turning a capacity, hometown audience into a seething, hand-clapping prison riot.

“Folsom” was just one of many highlights in a show that was as much a homecoming celebration as a concert.

With friends, family members and longtime fans clapping, singing along and shouting requests, the two-hour concert was just the latest concert milestone in a career that has advanced from the Paragon to the Paramount, from bars and coffee houses to large theaters.

“You know it’s a great crowd when you can get ’em singing along that early in the show,” Carlile said after the third song, “What Can I Say,” adding, “I’m happy to be home.”

Carlile’s latest album, “Give Up the Ghost,” was inspired by the dreams of bassist Phil Hanseroth, who jotted down his slumberland adventures and turned them into vivid songs. Collaborators in the studio included Elton John (on the song “Caroline”) drummer Chad Smith of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, keyboardist Benmont Tench of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and singer Amy Ray of Indigo Girls.

Carlile and her band — featuring cellist Josh Neumann, new drummer Allison Miller and Phil’s twin, guitarist Tim Hanseroth — opened a cappella with the lovely, romantic “Oh Dear” from “Give Up the Ghost.”

If “Folsom Prison Blues” was among the more rambunctious songs in the show, “Dying Day” (from “Give Up the Ghost”) was among the more poignant and reflective. Carlile and the band sang without microphones while concertgoers shushed each other in order to hear. I hadn’t seen anyone go mike-less at the Paramount since Tony Bennett sang “Fly Me to the Moon” in September 2007.

The concert featured more than a half dozen songs from the new album, among them “Looking Out,” “I Will,” “Dreams” and “Before It Breaks,” which featured Carlile on piano (a relatively new thing for her). Before the song, Carlile explained that she had been a fan of piano man Elton John since she was 10 or 11 years old and had a poster of the star on her wall. “I was Elton John for Halloween,” she said. Carlile also told a humorous story about meeting John in the studio, where he was decked out in pink eyeglasses (both prescription and ornamental).

Many of her older songs were still impressive, notably “Turpentine” (in which she divided the audience into three singalong groups) and “The Story,” which she dedicated to friends and family.

Carlile was accompanied by her sister, Tiffany, for the beautiful “Calling On Angels.”

After inciting the audience with “Folson Prison Blues,” she delivered a lovely version of the Beatles’ “Let It Be.”

The concert’s opening act, Katie Herzig and her band, joined Brandi and company for “Wish You Well.” The stage was crowded with nine musicians, among them two cellists.

Easily the most moving song in the show was “That Year,” a tune about coping with a friend’s suicide when she was 16, from “Give Up the Ghost.”

A tender version of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” featuring band member Josh Neumann on cello, closed the encore — but not before everyone in the band returned for a fog-enhanced, heavy-metal finale.

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