For an Aussie lassie, Kasey Chambers understands the heartache hidden in country music — you can hear it in her voice, a tearing, weary note that streaks through every song. I first heard her in a crowded bar, a CD played as background to a room full of conversation. It doesn’t happen very often where I hear something that just blocks out everything else, that leaves me having to interrupt people to say, “What the hell is this?” I remember hearing Elmore James in a similar situation, but it was the guitar and voice combination. This was just a sweet clear voice, stopping time.
I no longer remember which song it was, but I found out that it was from her first LP, The Captain. Once I got my hands on a copy, I was able to listen closer. That voice was incredible, so natural and lean — when it breaks during the title track, I thought, they must have kept that take, specifically because it sounds so. . .I don’t know. . .adorable. I was smitten already, and it just added to her appeal.
Her songwriting seemed just a bit unpolished as well, but I loved a couple of twists like “I’m not much like my generation/their music only hurts my ears” (from “Cry Like a Baby”) and “This flower is my soul/but it’s not half of what I owe/I should give you every rose that ever grew” (from “This Flower”).
Shortly after this, she released her Barricades and Brickwalls record, as well as the single “[Am I] Not Pretty Enough,” which I usually warn people about. Cynics will hear an attempt to fish for compliments, especially given the album’s cover photo. But it’s a sweet, sad song about being rejected. Her high, clear voice is especially featured on this record, a mix of twangy country (including a great version of Gram Parsons’ “Still Feeling Blue”) and sparse acoustic ballads.
About this time, I saw her perform on Austin City Limits, looking like she was in her 12th month of pregnancy. There’s just something inspiring about seeing someone playing guitar and sounding so good, and looking so uncomfortable.
Since that breakthrough single (“Not Pretty Enough” was a number-one hit in Australia), she has released three more albums, including the latest, a collaboration with her husband, Shane Nicholson, called Rattling Bones. The previous two, Wayward Angel and Carnival seemed like much more serious, mature efforts, with stronger songwriting. I liked them (especially Wayward’s “Bluebird,” one of the prettiest songs she’s ever recorded), but I really miss the charmingly awkward moments from her earlier records. “Rattling Bones” is surprisingly strong, as she gives up a lot of the lead singing to her partner, but the songs are so good, they make a case for an Australian-led Americana revival.
Official site: http://www.kaseychambers.com/