Are Australians allowed to not only do country music but be good at it? It seems so, where Kasey Chambers is concerned. The songstress’s second album, Barricades and Brickwalls, explores territory more usually occupied by the likes of Eileen Rose and Indigo Girls – who are distinctly American.
It’s already selling by the truckload in Australia, where it’s been on sale for about six months prior to its UK release. On what seems to be a family affair of sorts, big brother Nash Chambers produces and Bill Chambers plays lap steel guitar and is credited with co-writing duties. But still there’s room for some guest appearances, notably by Lucinda Williams on On A Bad Day.
Just another country songwriter, then? Far from it. Kasey Chambers has a powerful and versatile voice which she uses subtly throughout. She wails like a child on I Still Pray, an atmospheric duet with fellow Aussie Paul Kelly, and sensually breaks hearts with the lyrics of Not Pretty Enough. While her wailing can be a little too much at times, overall her singing makes for a highly listenable experience.
On A Little Bit Lonesome it is almost like listening to the song structure and instrumentation employed by the late Patsy Cline, even if the voices couldn’t be more different. And the title track is an odd thing, sounding for all the world like it will turn into Fairport Convention‘s Matty Groves. Her voice is certainly more brash than the late great Sandy Denny, but there’s an unmistakable folk-rock influence on Chambers’ brand of country music.
Her take on the Gram Parsons song Still Feeling Blue is at once the highlight of the record and somewhat overshadows much else by its infectious pace and traditional instrumentation. It seems to act as a counterweight to the folky moments elsewhere. She returns to them on The Mountain, though, one of the slower, reflective tracks.
Barricades and Brickwalls is an album characterised by solid and straightforward songwriting, safe if assured instrumentation and great performances by a talented band, led by Chambers. It’d be great to hear her next effort experiment a little more with production. But this Aussie country is a place we should like to explore a great deal more.