Kasey Chambers Biography
Last updated: 04/04/2012 12:00:00 PM
Upon hearing Kasey Chambers' 1999 debut album, The Captain, even the most impossible-to-please critics let down their guard. A case study was Village Voice critic, Robert Christgau, who wrote: "If the voice doesn't get you - you're not me, and you're also not a whole bunch of other people." And with that, Nullarbor-raised, Central Coast-based singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers was on her way.
And to think that the drum roll that introduced Australian music's brightest light was very much of the muffled variety. No mad media onslaught for this 26-year-old singer-songwriter. There were no marquees bearing her name in eyeball-burning lights (although they do now). Yet the word swiftly began to spread on The Captain. As Nashville scribe Chet Flippo wrote about "the million dollar catch" in Kasey's voice, she continued to tour, throughout 1999, 2000 and 2001, criss-crossing Australia, Europe and America, covering hundreds of thousands of kilometres. As the album went double platinum here, the world really began to listen...
Keith Glass, writing in Australia's Rhythms magazine, declared it: "Hard to beat as the Australian album of the year... I salute The Captain.? Britain's reputable Q magazine declared: "This is the work of a new world pop star in the making." Rolling Stone stated that: "The piercing honesty and emotional clarity of her heavy-hearted country-rock makes The Captain stand tall." And it didn't harm Chambers reputation that peers and long-time Chambers champions Lucinda Williams and Steve Earle praised both her and The Captain at every chance. Williams' response after hearing the album neatly summed up how powerful and influential an album it was. "It completely blew me away," the Grammy-winner said.
But that was only the beginning of Chambers-mania...
She collected Golden Guitars for Album of the Year and Female Artist of the Year back home in Australia. Her tender country ballad, "The Captain", was heard on mob TV series The Sopranos. Whilst most debutantes don't stand a chance of appearing on David Letterman's huge-rating, New York-based 'Tonight Show', Chambers rocked it last year. She headlined the revered Austin City Limits program, the first time a non-American act has done that in the show's 26-year history.
But the icing on the cake of Chambers' short, dazzling solo life came during the 2000 ARIAs. What shot did a Gram-and-Hank loving, Nullarbor-raised singer-songwriter have at the Best Female Artist title, especially when she was up against the Vanessas and Kylies of planet pop? Plenty, as it turned out. "It was then I realised this was serious," the eternally good-natured Chambers now says, looking back at her huge win.
With her reputation as a world-class twangstress confirmed, Kasey Chambers could well have sat back at her Central Coast home and polished her awards, waiting for her muse to call. But that's not this country girl's way. Between Australian and American tours in late 2000 and early 2001, Kasey got rolling on her second solo album, Barricades & Brickwalls. The musical cast remains essentially the same as The Captain. Kasey's brother Nash produces, while the house band features such regulars as drummer BJ Barker, Kasey's dad Bill (dobro, slide), bassman Jeff McCormack plus guitarist Mark Punch. Drummer Peter Luscombe and rhythm guitarist Dave Steel also help out. For Kasey, it's all about trust. "I go in with the attitude that these guys know how to play these songs; we'll sense it if something's wrong."
The album was recorded mainly at Mangrove Studios on NSW's Central Coast ("I love the atmosphere there," Kasey says, "you feel a million miles away from the world"), and in Nashville, Melbourne and at Nash's basement studio in NSW's country music mecca, Avoca Beach. Barricades & Brickwalls also features an all-star guest list: Lucinda Williams, The Living End, Paul Kelly, Matthew Ryan and Buddy Miller all help out. But rather than suck up Kasey's spotlight, these friends and favourites help bring out the depth and diversity of her stunning new tunes, which veer between the cool, crisp country swing of "A Little Bit Lonesome", the gutsy blues of the title track and a swag of emotionally potent ballads with the power to break your heart ("Not Pretty Enough", "A Million Tears").
"The last album showed my life story," Kasey explains. "That was Introducing Kasey Chambers. This one's The Many Moods of Kasey Chambers."
Anyway, best leave Kasey to talk you through Barricades & Brickwalls. If anybody knows these songs, it's her - after all, if she sings it, you know she's lived it.