Personalities | Kasey Chambers | Alt. Country & The Bluegrass Revival

It makes sense that Australia would be the one country outside North America to develop an important country-music scene of its own. Like the USA and Canada, Australia had a large, under-populated frontier that was settled by English, Irish and Scotch immigrants who brought their folk songs with them.

Roughened and toughened by frontier life, those songs became country music. Australia lacked the African, German and Mexican influences that shaped American country music, but it had a strong oral-poetry tradition that led to the bush ballads, the down-under equivalent of cowboy songs.

Australian Alt. Country

Tex Morton recorded the first Australian country songs in 1936 in the style of his hero Jimmie Rodgers and became a big star in the 1940s. He was soon joined by a similar star, Buddy Williams. The giant of the bush balladeers was David Gordon ‘Slim Dusty’ Kirkpatrick, who first recorded in 1946 and released more than 100 albums. But it was an alt.-country artist, Kasey Chambers (vocals, guitar, b. 1976), who finally enabled Australian country to cross over to the pop charts in the 1990s, a triumph that alt.-country never tasted in the United States.

A few months after she was born, her bohemian parents Bill and Diane Chambers took Kasey and her older brother Nash out for a six-month fox-hunting trip on the Nullarbor Plain, an immense red-dirt desert in South Australia that resembles Mars more than anything near Sydney. It was a trip the family would take every year for 10 years, and every day after dinner, the family would sit around the campfire and sing songs by Bill’s favourites: Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Emmylou Harris. When the family finally settled down year-round in one place, they began performing the same songs in local clubs as The Dead Ringer Band.

Dead Ringers

Free of the usual influences, the four Dead Ringer Band albums sounded so fresh that they yielded a No. 1 country single and a slew of Best Country Group awards. As a singer and writer of transparently emotional songs, Chambers soon emerged as the family’s most formidable asset. When her 1999 debut solo album, The Captain, won Album Of The Year from the Country Music Association of Australia, the sight of the spiky-haired, pierced Chambers accepting the award from the wrinkled patriarch Slim Dusty started a media buzz. The album jumped into the pop Top 10, went double platinum, won Chambers the Female Vocalist Of The Year ARIA Award (Australia’s equivalent of the Grammies) and was released in the USA the next year.

Chambers’ second album, Barricades And Brickwalls, featured a duet with Australia’s leading roots-rocker, Paul Kelly. Chambers and Kelly sang another duet on his bluegrass album, Foggy Highway, and she contributed a song to The Woman At The Well: The Songs Of Paul Kelly, an anthology of Kelly’s songs interpreted by 16 different Australian women (including Slim Dusty’s daughter Anne Kirkpatrick). The tunes deserved...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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