Tag Archives: Kasey Chambers

Today’s Top 5: Cool Sounds, Vol. Whatever

On Tuesday, a former supervisor mentioned to me that she’s been obsessing over Jason Isbell’s latest album, The Nashville Sound.

I wasn’t aware that he had a new album out. 

In my defense: I’m not overly familiar with Isbell, his oeuvre or that of his former band, the Drive-By Truckers. Diane is, however, and informs me that we actually had tickets to see the Truckers during the Isbell years, but didn’t go because one of us was ill. In 2015, we saw him accompany his wife Amanda Shires on three songs at the World Cafe Live, when she opened for Lee Ann Womack – well “see” is being generous. Our seats were to the right of the soundboard, blocking the left half of the stage – where he stood, more or less.

Shires is another of Diane’s artists. Just as, say, First Aid Kit are one of mine.

Until this summer, when we consolidated for air-conditioning purposes, our desks and computers – where we both do much of our listening – have been in separate rooms for decades. So while there is plenty of music we enjoy together, there’s much that we each like that the other knows primarily from osmosis, if at all. Back in the pre-Internet era and our 5-CD player, that was far less frequent. Oh, we both had artists we enjoyed more than the other, but nights-long Acquire or Tetris tournaments ensured that we heard just about everything the other was listening to.

Which is a longwinded way to say: I could and probably should have been familiar with Isbell long ago.

And with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Cool Sounds, Vol. Whatever.

1) Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit – “Last of My Kind.” So, Tuesday, I pulled up Nashville Sound in Apple Music and listened to it on my commute home from work; and this, the opening track, sent not the proverbial chills up or shivers down my spine, but a flash of recognition through the synapses of my soul. True, the song charts an experience far from mine – that of a country kid in a big city – but the haunting refrain is a universal lament for any of a certain age.

We, the children of the ‘70s and ‘80s, are indeed the last of our kind.

2 First Aid Kit – Glastonbury, 6/21/17. Klara, Johanna and band deliver a great set at the annual Glastonbury Music Festival in Somerset, England. Among the highlights: “Ghost Town” and a song from the ‘70s…”The Gambler.” (Yes, the Kenny Rogers hit.) Also, in an interesting development – Johanna has traded the keyboards, which is what she primarily played on the 2014-15 tour, for bass guitar. There’s only one drawback…

3) First Aid It – “My Silver Lining.” …which is, if you watched all 45+ minutes of the above, you’ll have suffered concert interruptus due to the exclusion of the set’s last song, “My Silver Lining.” But it’s okay: BBC Music posted it.

4) Beau + Luci – “Muddy Water.” Here’s another sister act, this one from the swamplands of southern Georgia. (For more on them, see my Q&A with them.) This is another gem from their recent Fire Dancer EP.

5) Kasey Chambers – “Crossfire.” So I’m still buzzed from the Kasey show we saw on the 5th – how could I not be? Here, she and the band perform one highlight (of many) from her 2001 album Barricades & Brickwalls.

And three bonuses…

6) Joe Pug & Courtney Marie Andrews – “Insider.” So Joe and Courtney are touring Down Under – and, as Joe explains here, discovered that they both like Tom Petty. (How could anyone not?) Here, he plays Tom to Courtney’s Stevie Nicks on this classic song from Petty’s 1981 album, Hard Promises.

7) Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – “Something in the Air.” So Diane and I saw Tom & Co. way back in 1989 – a great show that included their cover of this Thunderclap Newman classic. Here’s their Live Anthology rendition of it…

8) I’m With Her – “Little Lies.” Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins, and Aoife O’Donovan band together in a wondrous folk collective they call I’m With Her. Beautiful work.

Garrett Kato in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

I’d be remiss in writing about Kasey Chambers’ phenomenal show at the World Cafe Live in Philadelphia without mentioning the opening act, Garrett Kato. He found himself on the tour, he said, because of Kasey’s grace. She heard him busking on a street corner, bought his CD and, later that same day, wrote about how good he was on Facebook. It took his girlfriend to explain that Kasey is sort of (and sort of not) like Dolly Parton in Australia. They eventually bumped into each other in a recording studio – and now he’s not only opening for her on this tour, but manning the soundboard.

Such small acts of kindness are less small to those on the receiving end, of course, especially one who’s an up-and-coming singer-songwriter. (The terrain has changed so much from the days of yore that, honestly, I wonder sometimes why so many still choose that path. But that’s a post for another day.)

Anyway, I wish I knew the names of all the songs he performed, but aside from a very cool cover of “My Girl” I can’t. Oh, and this one, “The River Mouth” –

When he got to the part where he incorporates “Dancing in the Dark” – well, I have a bruise the size of Nebraska on my arm now thanks to Diane, who was so excited to hear a bit of the Boss that she began punching me.

Obvious by the fact that the clip is from Columbus, I suppose, is that no one in the audience captured this night’s performance (or, at least, uploaded it to YouTube). That’s no reflection on him and his talent, just – speaking for myself – the realities of battery-operated devices. Not only are his songs damn good, but he has a disarming stage presence – and a wondrous grainy texture to his voice. Here’s another song, also from Columbus, that he sang in Philly:

He also reflected on his move, seven years back, from Canada to Australia, which became more-or-less permanent when he met a girl there and they had a baby. He also shared a funny story of writing a sweet song for his mom when she was going through a tough time… only to have the producers of Bad Moms ask to use it in the movie. He then had to call his mother and explain that a payday would have to trump his heartfelt sentiment. (It was funnier when he told it. Trust me.) The song is “Sweet Jane” – not to be confused with the Lou Reed/Velvet Underground classic – and is well worth the listen.

Here’s a version he uploaded to YouTube:

 

Kasey Chambers in Philadelphia, 7/5/2017

How time flies. That’s a cliche, I know, but it seems just yesterday that Diane and I took our seats in an overstuffed couch positioned in front of the small stage at the Point, a now-defunct music club in Bryn Mawr.

The headliner that night, November 6, 2000: Kasey Chambers, a babyfaced 23-year-old country-folk singer from Australia. (Here’s the City Paper’s preview of the show.) The tickets set us back $12 (for the both of us). We were already fans, and were psyched to see her, though neither of us can now remember how we discovered her music. Was it through XPN? A review in a music magazine? A recommendation from a friend? A chance buy? However we came upon her, this much we do recall: She blew us away. Backed by a crack band that included her dad Bill, she delivered a rollicking set that routinely teetered from hilarious to profound, sometimes in the same song.

Two-and-a-half years later, at the Keswick Theater in Glenside, we saw her again at a highly anticipated (by us) show that I consider my Most Disappointing Concert Ever. She had a bad flu and, after a yeoman’s effort, called it quits after about 40 minutes (maybe less) of cutting short most songs – she’d start one only to realize 30 seconds or a minute in that she couldn’t hit the necessary notes. (It’s not the worst show I’ve witnessed, believe it or not. That “honor” goes to the Singer Who Shall Not Be Named.)

Anyway, she played the TLA in November 2004 – but we weren’t aware. So our last memory of her in a live setting was of that Keswick show; not that we held it against her. Her 2004 Wayward Angel album, to my ears, is an alt.country delight; her more-mainstream 2006 album Carnival is a gem; and Rattlin’ Bones, her 2008 release with then-husband Shane Nicholson is home to many neo-country classics, including the title cut. I’d continue down the line and lay praise on the albums that followed – except, somewhere in there, I lost track of her.

It’s easy to do. There’s so much good music, so little time and, in the case of Kasey Chambers, so little American press and radio.

And just as we missed that TLA concert and some of the albums that followed, we may well have missed this show. Natalie Merchant’s tour itinerary had her at Longwood Gardens this same night, July 5th, and I tried to score us tickets in March, but (for reasons too lengthy to go into here) came up empty. You can never truly know what you missed, of course, but as good or great as that show may have been, I’m grateful I missed it.

Quite simply, Kasey Chambers delivered what may well have been – and I don’t say this lightly – my Concert of the Year at the World Cafe Live. It mixed old-school country with rock and blues, humor and pathos, featured her still-crack band (which still includes her dad), and was topped off by her wondrous voice, which bypasses the ears for the heart and soul.

They opened with “Wheelbarrow” from her 2014 Bittersweet album…

…and played songs old and new. One highlight: “A Million Tears,” a song that dates to her classic 2001 Barricades & Brickwalls album.

Another: her cover of Little Feat’s “Willin’,” which builds from an acoustic gem into a full-band opus.

Some of the night’s highlights aren’t (yet) on YouTube – “Oh Grace,” during which Kasey was joined at her microphone by her bandmates, sent shivers down the spine; and “Ain’t No Little Girl,” the second-to-last song of her main set, featured a heart-stopping vocal performance that…wow. Just wow. Here she is at the City Winery in New York a few nights later singing it:

She concluded the main set with “The Captain,” which she wrote in her teens and, she says, is her favorite of all her songs.

The funny (and Dylan-esque) “Talkin’ Baby Blues” followed; and the night finally ended with what may well have been history: three generations of the Chambers clan on stage together for “Barricades & Brickwalls.” (That’s her son Arlo on harmonica.)

For my ears and money, it doesn’t get much better than that voice, its quiver and high notes; those guitars; and those songs, which mix Appalachian soul with a rock ’n’ roll heart. Over the course of the 18-song, 100-minute concert, Kasey Chambers guided us to heaven and hell, and all points in between, and left us wanting more. One can only hope that it’s not another 13 years before she comes around this way again.

The setlist: