A Review of Kasey Chambers’ Carnival

chambers.jpgAppears in the August 31, 2006 Claremont Eagle Times:

In 2000, when U.S. audiences were first exposed to Kasey Chambers, she was already a star in her native Australia. American radio programmers didn’t know what to do with the quirky singer-songwriter. “Cry Like A Baby” was a minor hit on country radio.

But the genre was an uncomfortable fit for Chambers, with her punked-up Deana Carter vocal style and pierced lower lip. After a well-received stint opening for Lucinda Williams, she found a place in the cult artist-rich Americana format.

Despite huge success down under – her last record entered the charts at Number One – she’s been slow to catch on here.

With each release – 2002’s “Barricades and Brickwalls” and 2004’s “Wayward Angel” Chambers’ music has gotten edgier. With her latest, “Carnival,” she busts out all the stops with her most un-country record yet.

The menacing love song “I Got You Now,” a duet with Tim Rogers, moves along at a pace reminiscent of seminal punk band X’s most frenetic work. The bluesy “Railroad,” with moaning guitars and shrieking train sounds, also kicks up a lot of dust.

“Sign on a Door” teases with the drawl that got her on many a Nashville station, but the slashing playing of new guitarist Jim Moginie, formerly of Aussie political rockers Midnight Oil, propels the song along with insistent urgency. Chambers’ deceptively child-like voice shines as she flits up the register in “The Rain,” while “Light Up a Candle,” which sounds a lot like the swaying “Pony” from her last record, features a real child’s voice.

In “Hard Road,” a weary yet resolute track, she effectively trades vocals with Powderfinger’s Bernard Fanning. The upbeat “Nothing At All” goes in the other direction, a goofy singsong that works because of its’ mindlessness, not in spite of it.

Less successful is “Surrender,” an odd bid for a dance floor hit that sounds too close to Madonna for comfort.

The song is the only miss on “Carnival,” which moves easily from rock and roll rave-ups to passionate bursts of soul, like the easygoing “Dangerous” and the Motown rhythms of “Don’t Look So Sad.” It’s Kasey Chambers’ strongest bid yet to export her success from down under.

(four out of five stars)

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