First of all, I want to give credit to Josh Schott of
because until he reviewed this album yesterday, I had never listened to Kasey Chambers. I’d only heard the name and knew her to be an Australian country singer. Now, it says a lot about the quality of this album that after one day, I have listened to it and am here reviewing it. Kasey Chambers is a name you should know, and you can expect a future Female Friday fully devoted to her. But for now, let’s focus on her latest studio album, Bittersweet, which recently became available everywhere (Australia has had it since 2014.)
The album opens with “Oh Grace,” which almost exclusively features a banjo and Kasey’s remarkable voice. Here, Kasey sings as a man asking a woman, Grace, to marry him. He is poor and has nothing to offer her but love, but says that all he has is “yours for eternity, if I make you my wife.” It’s nice to hear a banjo used for good and not evil; rather than being a pop song with banjo added to pretend to be country, this is a country song where a banjo drives the beat. “Is God Real?” finds Kasey struggling with the question and deciding that she’ll pray to Him anyway. The concept of God is discussed throughout this album, and it’s refreshing and honest to hear, regardless of your views on the matter. “Wheelbarrow” is probably the most intriguing song on the album, and the bluesy instrumentation blends nicely with the lyrics and Chambers’s vocals to make it catchy. In this song, there is a whole new side of Chambers’s voice than the softer one presented on “Oh Grace,” and it’s hard to say which style suits her voice better.
“I Would Do” is a love song listing all the things Kasey would do for her man. I love the opening line: “Everybody plays the fool, I am no exception to the rule.” “Hell of a Way To Go” is a nice country rock song about dying of a broken heart. Next is “House on a Hill,” a beautiful song where Kasey sings with her father, fellow country singer Bill Chambers, about a house that is falling apart and about to be torn down. “It’s been through it all, and there’s cracks in the walls, they may as well just take me down too”–what a great line.
“Stalker” comes next, and after the darkness of “House on a Hill,” it works. It is a fun, upbeat song literally about being someone’s stalker. The lyrics can only be described as disturbing. On my first listen, it was extremely creepy. On my second listen, it was hilarious. I like to think Kasey put this on the album solely for shock value and/or to creep out everyone she knew–if your friend wrote this, you would sincerely hope it wasn’t meant for you. “Heaven or Hell” is one of my early favorites on the album; it deals with where we go when we die and also speaks to hypocrites, saying that our deeds will all come out one day. More excellent songwriting is present here–“Clever little liar with a righteous tongue, reputation to uphold. One of these days you’re gonna have to come out of the lies you’ve told.” The melody is catchy too, and the song is saved from being judgmental as well because she speaks to herself in the last verse, saying she’ll have to change her ways and “one of these days, you’re gonna have to get down on your knees and pray.” It’s like a Kacey Musgraves song but less confrontational.
“Bittersweet,” the album’s title track, is a duet with fellow Australian singer Bernard Fanning. Their voices work well together in this song as they speculate on their former love and whether they should get back together. I can’t say enough about the excellent songwriting on this album, and “Too Late To Save Me” gives us more of it. There is something so honest about a song that opens like this: “They hear me cry, they hear me roar, they call me late, they call me whore.” It’s a song about a prostitute trying to cope with her life and wondering if God can still save her. Again, the banjo drives the beat of this rocking song and the instrumentation goes well with the lyrics. “Christmas Day” is another song with a religious theme; here Kasey tells the story of Mary and Joseph from a more romantic perspective. It is less a Christmas song and more a country love song, and it works very well on the album. Bittersweet closes with “I’m Alive,” a bluegrass song where the banjo that backed many of the songs basically takes over. It’s a celebratory song that sees Kasey coming out on top and thankful to be alive after hard times. She mentions that she “drank like a bitch” and “made it through the hardest fucking year,” which again adds to the honesty of the album. I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard “whore” and “bitch” uttered in a country album, and there’s something very real about it that is missing in much of today’s country. I’m not saying you have to say things like that to be real, but their presence proves that what we’re hearing from Kasey Chambers is indeed real songwriting coming from her perspective rather than polished-up radio hits that tell us little more about the actual artist than that they want to sell records.
This is a fantastic album, and Kasey Chambers is a name you should be familiar with. She’s Australia’s hidden gem, and this album proves it. As I said earlier, it should tell you a lot about the quality of this music that I found time to review it within one day of ever listening to a Kasey Chambers song.