It's impossible to listen to Kasey Chambers without imagining the vast expanse of the Australian plains, the thousand and one nighttime noises, a train wailing across great distances -- although I have no sense of whether that's an authentic view or a projection based on press releases and interviews.
Chambers grew up in some all-singing, all-dancing variation on The Mosquito Coast with her back-to-nature family, learning to fish and hunt and survive, and at the same time to sing some cross-generational amalgam of traditional country mixed with the post-'60s stuff: Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris, Neil Young, Hank, Merle and Jimmie. I like to imagine her family swapping choruses of Parsons' "Still Feelin' Blue," which Chambers covers on the new disc, while the vacationing Von Trapps are nearby, being ravaged by a pack of dusty dingoes.
That feeling, among others, is part of this new CD, which has several years on her first CD, The Captain, and it's legitimate to say that this is her first adult effort, though it's entirely possible that Chambers was fully mature at a very young age.
The record is full of tears and heartbreak and oddly tilted lyrics, some of it straightahead rock, some simple folk -- Chambers' waifish voice accompanied by a solo acoustic guitar, and a few other tracks are close to pure country, especially "A Little Bit Lonesome," which has a Hank twist in every chorus.
And then there are a few genuinely spooky numbers, fuzzy, gothic, full of strange spaces and growling guitars, songs in which her little-girl wail pinches up, and underneath the listener finds something entirely unexpected creeping out, like a Dolly Parton doll crossed with Chucky. "Am I Pretty Enough," which reads like pure plea, has a sharp, unseen edge, and she starts out the CD with the title song, a stalker lament which has something in common with "Every Breath You Take," except that it makes Sting sound like a girlyman, while Chambers comes across like a nocturnal serial killer visible only by the barest of dashboard lights. As Chambers sings on "If I Were You": "It's not for you to judge/From all this kind of stuff/I'm only half of what you see."
Chambers has made a lot of friends over the last couple of years, and here she teams up with Lucinda Williams, Matthew Ryan and Buddy Miller, among others. What matters more is that with this, her second record, she's likely to make even more friends, and somehow that old outback train whistle is sounding a little less lonesome.
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