February 21, 2002

Australian for Country

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How many times — how many, I ask — must the following happen? You meet a girl (or guy) and they seem cool, yet soon enough the truly inevitable question of what music they listen to comes up and you hear the same old responses: “I like everything except for rap and country” or just “everything but country.” You know that the person assumes all country music is basically a variation on the classic Kenney Chesney cut “She thinks my tractor is sexy.” You want to set the person straight. You want to tell them about real country music, but unfortunately you’re not advanced enough in your communication to give them the “real country” speech. Now after such a rocky start, where can a meaningful relationship go?

Fortunately things are changing. During that awkward moment of silence when she dropped the bomb, turn on the radio and you may hear “Not Pretty Enough,” the first single of Kasey Chambers’ fantastic new record Barricades and Brickwalls, currently the No. 1 most added song at American AAA radio. It is the type of song that converts the non-believers, a sweet acoustic driven number in the vein of Juliana Hatfield with lyrics (“Am I not pretty enough/ Is my heart too broken?”) carrying a charm like that something which made Angela from My So Called Life so strangely appealing.

Some crucial facts, rumors, and opinions: 1) Kasey Chambers is a 25-year- old country singer hailing from Australia of all places. 2) Her critically acclaimed debut The Captain was praised in alt-country circles, won a few Aussie Grammys, was used on the Sopranos soundtrack, and supposedly made Lucinda Williams cry. 3) Kasey is pretty damn good.

Expectations were high for Barricades and Brickwalls, and it does not disappoint by any means. Much in the vein of Lucinda’s wonderful Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, but with a more playful side, Kasey traverses all over the Americana roadmap. “A Little Bit Lonesome” is an original that sounds so much like Hank Williams that it either has him singing along in his grave or itching for some royalties. “Runaway Train” is a catchy and distorted bluesy rocker reminiscent of Lucinda’s “Joy.”

Kasey’s lyrical talents come across most clearly on “Nullarbor Song,” a gorgeous acoustic Appalachian ballad that wouldn’t seem out of place on a Gillian Welch record. On the track, Kasey recollects moving away from her hometown, concluding with the simple yet lovely “I’ll learn to live in a new town/ But my heart is staying here.” Elsewhere, Chambers pays tribute to the deified father of alt-country, Gram Parsons, especially with the freewheeling cover of “Still Feeling Blue,” which stays true to Parsons’ version and captures his vision of a cosmic fusion of American music.

The appeal of singer/songwriters like Kasey Chambers is their earnestness and simplicity. The danger, however, which Kasey sometimes falls into on her debut, is using her babyish twang to sound so earnest as to become corny. Avoiding being corny, while remaining genuine and heartfelt, is an artform Lucinda Williams has perfected. And after touring with Lucinda, Kasey seems to have learned a great deal. On Barricades and Brickwalls, she seldom sounds too earnest, and at 25 I think she can be forgiven for being a bit idealistic. And remember folks, this Aussie cowgirl may just save you a potential relationship.

Archived article by Maxim Pozdorovkin