Although it appears that Australian native Kasey Chambers has just come on the radar of up-and-coming musicians, she’s been around far longer than anyone could fathom at just 25 years of age. After surviving her own version of television’s Survivor as a child while her family lived as nomads for a portion of the year in Australia’s Nullabor Plain, she earned her proverbial stripes in the Dead Ringer Band. A 1999 solo release in her homeland, The Captain, finally reaped benefits in North America with acclaim from Steve Earle and an opening slot on Lucinda Williams’ North American tour. Now looking the sophomore jinx square in the eye with this collection of 14 tender roots and country songs, it is easy to tell she hasn’t blinked.
The opening title track could easily be mistaken for either Lucinda Williams or Julie Miller, with a twang and devil may care blues delivery that is murky and haunting. “I’ll be damned if you’re not my man before the sun goes down,” she tells the listener, and by the song’s conclusion, it’s hard not to believe otherwise. And as strong as this song is, the subsequent radio friendly roots pop “Not Pretty Enough” comes across as a bit weaker than the remaining songs. That isn’t to say it’s a bad song so much as the strength of the other tunes leaves it slightly average. Near the album’s conclusion is a better pop oriented tune in “If I Were You”, a toe tapping song perfect for long summer drives in the country.
Most of the tracks fall into a lovely country sway, and not in the new country schtick mode. Backed by Lucinda Williams on “On a Bad Day”, Chambers seems at peace making the music she grew up on, not deviating one iota from a touch of fiddle, dobro or banjo to connect to the listener the way so few do today. “A Little Bit Lonesome” further proves this theory, with Chambers starting off the song in the way legend Hank Williams started off his “Lovesick Blues”, the little vocal twitch midway through the introductory line. The supporting cast of father/guitarist Bill Chambers and the underrated vocalist Buddy Miller goes far to give the album a cohesive sound, despite a couple of different forays throughout. But it’s obvious the influence Lucinda Williams has had on Chambers. “Runaway Train” is another mid-tempo dark country song, but has a style resembling Williams performing her funky “Joy” track from Car Wheels on a Gravel Road.
When Chambers isn’t supported by her bandmates, she goes it predominantly alone and the payoff is almost worth ad naseum replays. “A Million Tears” has all the intangibles of a great breakup song, whether its the gravelly backing vocals of Matthew Ryan or the brushing of BJ Barker on the drums, everything fits perfectly. Ryan sounds a cross between Tom Waits and Robbie Robertson, but its end result works. And while Chambers doesn’t mention crying the same amount in “Nullarbor Song”, the same loss is discussed, only this time relating to her hometown and being away from its beauty. “This Mountain” tends to fall in the same framework, but doesn’t have the same depth.
Covering Gram Parsons in “Still Feeling Blue” is a good idea, but the track doesn’t really add much to the general proceedings. Perhaps the biggest surprise is “Crossfire”, not so much for the hard driving blues rock it’s composed of, but more for who is accompanying her here, Australia’s The Living End. Short and sweet, the tune is a breath of fresh air and positioned in a fine spot on the album. An added bonus is the hidden track “Ignorance”. Thankfully with only a minute of dead air between songs, the track and its royalties are being donated to an Vietnamese orphanage. “If you’re not pissed off at the world / Then you’re just not paying attention,” she sings strumming solo. Saving her best vocally for the last, the tune hopefully is a hint of what’s on the horizon. But for now, we’ll just have to settle for easily one of the year’s top 10, if not top five.