The Australian country music scene deserves more attention. And I can’t stress this enough. A lot of people may not think of Australia when thinking about country music, but they’re a lot more country than you think. There are a lot of great Aussie country artists making music and if there’s one area of the country music world I wish I had given more coverage throughout the year to, it would be Australia country music. I’m going to start making up for it now though with this review. If you aren’t familiar with her, meet Kasey Chambers. She’s a 39-year-old singer-songwriter who has been making music for over a decade and has racked up multiple platinum albums in her home country. She’s signed with Warner Music Australia and she just recently released to the U.S. her new album Bittersweet through Sugar Hill Records. Australia received this album last year, so it’s not new to them. Although I’m very jealous they’ve been listening to this for a year because this album is full of great music.
Bittersweet begins with “Oh Grace,” a beautiful and poignant song. Chambers sings from the point of view of a man in this song, who’s in love with a woman. Her voice is stunning in this song, as it fits perfectly with the mostly banjo instrumentation. It’s very much a throwback song. Chambers sings about religion and believing in God in “Is God Real?” She seems to grapple with the concept throughout the song and it’s certainly an interesting commentary on the subject. Regardless of your stance, the songwriting is solid. “I Would Do” is a love song where a woman professes her love for her man. She would be willing to do anything for his love, as Chambers sings throughout the song. Once again her voice is just great and really something I thought to myself on every song on this album. It’s not only dynamic, but tells a story well and engages the listener.
One of the more rocking tunes on the album is “Hell Of A Way To Go.” It’s a song very much driven by the guitar play and has an infectious rhythm. Once again the great songwriting shines on “House On A Hill.” The imagery the lyrics inspire in the listeners’ heads is so vivid and clear. Her father Bill Chambers, a fellow country singer and her inspiration also joins Chambers on the song. The father-daughter duo sound great together and I’m glad she included him on the song. The oddest song on the album is “Stalker.” Yet it’s also arguably the most fun too. Chambers sings about stalking someone she’s obsessed with and the lyrics are really creepy. Upon first listen I didn’t know what the hell to think. But after several more listens the song is stuck in my head because it’s catchy as hell and the instrumentation is really fun. Maybe I’m just a sucker for these gothic inspired country tunes.
Chambers grapples with another religious related theme on “Heaven Or Hell.” As you can gather from the title, she wonders where you go when you die, to heaven or hell. Again the lyrics are catchy and easy to get stuck in your head, but getting good songwriting stuck in your head is never a bad thing. The album’s title track is the second duet on the album, as Chambers sings with fellow Australian singer-songwriter Bernard Fanning. This is my first exposure to Fanning and I have to say my first impression is a great one. His voice is as smooth as silk and when you combine it with a dynamic voice like Chambers’, you get magic. I can see why this is Chambers’ favorite song on the album. It’s fantastic and a must-listen.
“Too Late To Save Me” is a song about a prostitute living with herself and dealing with the effects of her actions. The mandolin and banjo play on this song first off is just amazing. It immediately made me engage with the song. Then you throw in equally great songwriting and Chambers’ voice. Just when you think you’ve heard the best song on the album, another makes you rethinks this. This is another gem on Bittersweet. With the penultimate song on the album, Chambers sings about…Christmas on “Christmas Day.” This really threw me for a loop, as you don’t hear too many songs about Christmas in the summer. It goes deeper than this, as Chambers recounts the story of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. She puts a spin on it though, as she makes it sound like a more romantic story. I have to admit I never looked at this story from this angle, but I’ll be damned it works. This is one of those songs you need to hear yourself, as I’m sure even my description leaves you a little puzzled.
The album closes out with “I’m Alive,” a song with plenty of harmonica and good ole fashioned picking, if you know what I mean. It’s a bluegrass tune about just being thankful to be alive, something I’m sure we’ve all thought after going through a crazy experience. It’s one of those simple life songs that after a long day, hits you just right. Chambers shows off her bluegrass style in this song and they’re just as impressive as the rest of her styles throughout this album.
If you’re not familiar with the name Kasey Chambers, you’ve picked the perfect time to do so with her new album Bittersweet. It’s an absolutely fantastic record that excels in every area throughout it. Her voice is definitely one of the best and a great throwback to the female country artists of days past. The instrumentation is rich and full of variety. I also must point out that the banjo is essentially the base instrumentation of the entire album, giving the album a very old school feel, which is a nice touch. This is an album that has something for everyone and one you need to hear.