Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kasey Chambers

  • The Captain [Asylum, 2000] B+
  • Barricades & Brickwalls [Warner Bros., 2002] A-
  • Wayward Angel [Warner Bros., 2004] ***

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Captain [Asylum, 2000]
If the voice doesn't get you, what can I say--you're not me, and you're also not a whole bunch of other people. Its burred drawl is deep country like Iris DeMent; its little-girl timbre evokes Dolly Parton and whispers Lolita. It's utterly arresting, and as soon as it warbles, "I never lived through the Great Depression/Sometimes I feel as though I did," you want to kiss her. Of course, when it gets to "I'm not much like my generation/Their music only hurts my ears," you may wish you'd pulled her nose instead. And when you learn that her "southern kind of life" took place in southern Australia--the cold part, noted for its drawl--you begin to suspect she's Gillian Welch without the death trip. You notice that her arrangements are slick country-rock, that her worldview is old hat, that you don't even know what the catchy title number means. So better not give your heart to this AC-ready 24-year-old-not yet. But by all means enjoy her voice and hum her tunes, which are delicious as music and dazzling as aesthetic constructions. And invest your hopes in the two kiss-offs--one to a boyfriend, the other to the world. B+

Barricades & Brickwalls [Warner Bros., 2002]
I got into the lizard-slow "Nullarbor Song" only after determining that Nullarbor is the southern Australian desert, its name Latin for "no trees"--did wonders for the "river of tears" line. That's the kind of price you pay for the saving strangeness built into Chambers's achieved, imagined stylistic commitment. Sure the outback can turn you into a country singer, especially if your dad is a professional folkie who's romanticized the natural his whole life (and you're not really a rebel). Sure the difficulty of the leap can mitigate the folk/country corn factor, especially if your voice is a wonder of nature (and you have enough sass in you). But represent your roots honestly, as you're smart enough to know you must, and sometimes you'll lose the folks you romanticize. A-

Wayward Angel [Warner Bros., 2004]
In New South Wales as in Nashville, heart tuggers are hard to get right ("Pony," "Guilty as Sin"). ***