Ever since she started her solo career, Kasey Chambers has made
no distinction between the rural roots of her native Australia
and her affinity for authentic Americana.
In affirming her affection, Chambers has opted to release two albums
practically simultaneously, one that embraces a series of definitive covers,
the other that emulates their origins and nets the same archival results.
Of the two, Songbook is the one that will likely garner the most immediate response, at least on
initial inspection. For one thing, there’s a sense of familiarity right off the
bat, given the fact that the songwriters who are represented – Gram Parsons,
Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle, Hank Williams and John Prine
among them – are inarguably iconic. For another, several of the songs – “Return
of the Grievous Angle,” “Luka,” “True Colours” and “If I Needed You” included –
clearly qualify as standards of the Americana
variety. Wisely, Chambers doesn’t tamper with the template to any great extent,
but the combination of her emotive vocals and these heartfelt melodies creates an
ideal combination regardless. In many ways Songbook simply reinforces the fact that Chambers has a stake in these songs. Given her credibility
within those rootsy realms, the song selection alone makes this an exceptional
and Ruin takes that tack even further, and though its songs don’t
claim the same venerable birthright, the treatment Chambers and her longtime
partner Shane Nicholson accord them provides a similarly archival sensibility.
Recorded in the far reaches of the Australian Outback, it reflects those dusty
environs in its stripped-down arrangements and traditional tomes. Banjo, Dobro,
fiddle and mandolin take precedence here and the bare-boned feel of “Dustbowl,”
“Rusted Shoes” and “Familiar Strangers” is matched only by the knee-slapping
revelry of the title track and “Sick as a Dog.” That unassuming approach all
but assures its charms, and it only takes the gospel-like lament of “Have Mercy
on Me” or the sepia strains emitted by “Up or Down” to demonstrate the duo’s
homage to the heartland, whether its Aussie, American or otherwise. Suffice it
to say Wreck and Ruin boosts their
bid for country couple of the year.
DOWNLOAD: “If I
Needed You,” “Return of the Grievous Angle,” “Wreck and Ruin” -LEE ZIMMERMAN