Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson , Rattlin‘ Bones

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September 18, 2008

Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson
Rattlin‘ Bones

Kasey Chambers and her husband, Shane Nicholson have come together to create magic on their first joint effort, Rattlin’ Bones. While this album is new to those of us in the United States, it has already won awards and spent time at the top of the album charts in their native country of Australia. Regrettably, it is not likely to receive the same attention here, but not because it’s in any way undeserving.

The couple either wrote separately or collaborated together on each song for this album that was recorded in the space of eight days with all of the musicians recording in the same room. The final result is a crisp blend of acoustic and traditional flavored songs that sound so much like retro classics that one might easily be fooled into believing that they were covers rather than Chambers’ and Nicholson’s own original compositions.

Upon a cursory listen to Rattlin’ Bones, it would be easy to hear the warm harmonies, the relaxed arrangements and memorable melodies and mistakenly presume that the album consists of light fare. However, further intake reveals an album that expertly explores the theme of heartache in its various forms. With that in mind, the Title track appropriately opens the album with “Smoke don’t rise/Fuel don’t burn/Sun don’t shine no more/Late one night sorrow come around/Scratching at my door/But I cut my hands/Break my back/Draggin’ this bag of stones/’Til they bury me down beneath the ground with the dust and rattlin’ bones.”

Like “Rattlin’ Bones”, the songs of heartache on this project are accompanied by haunting melodies that help to create the intended atmosphere of hopelessness and desperation. An instance of such hopelessness is when the narrator in “Adeline” asks, “Who’s gonna save you now?” “Oh, what a Mess you’ve made today,”, they sing, which makes us assume that Adeline has caused her own destruction through the choices that she’s made and, therefore, has finally reached her demise.

Without a doubt, the most haunting and intriguing song on this record is “One More Year.” Sadness emanates from its every element—The tender vocals, the lone acoustic guitar accompaniment and the vulnerable but gorgeous melody. It’s evident that the couple in this song is in a desperately destructive relationship where hope is nowhere to be found. “One more year/One more year/Let’s hold our breath and give it just one more year”, they sing. However, by the end of the song, we find that the man is trying to repair the relationship, but instead of him being the one “holding a loaded gun”, it’s her who’s holding it now, while She’s “hoping that what we fear ain’t what we’ve become.” So much of the song seems simple on the surface, but it’s a captivating song that only gains depth with repeated listens.

Another prevalent theme of the album is matters of the spiritual nature. The pretty and traditional “No One Hurts Up Here” would perfectly fit into a church hymnal, while the gritty “The Devil’s Inside My Head” provides more provocative lyrics, such as “I gave my life to save my soul, but the devil took them both.” Similarly, the unshakably catchy “Monkey On A Wire” explores the tenuous act of attempting to resist the desires of temptation, but ultimately recognizing the futility of the exercise. With us as flawed humans playing the part of the symbolic monkey on a wire who’s attempting to evade the devil, they sing: “Oh, here I go/Me and my desire/Everyone’s got their own monkey on a wire/Oh, down below/Leader of the choir/He’s waiting for the next monkey on a wire.”

In a departure from the rest of the album, the hopeful “Jackson Hole” is funky and unique. It’s the only song with a prominent percussive beat. It would be a jarring experience if it weren’t so sonically intriguing.

Kasey Chambers is a beloved country artist in Australia, but Shane Nicholson is generally known for his rock influenced work. However, without outshining each other, their voices naturally meld perfectly to create tight and warm harmonies that unmistakably fit the genre for which this album was made. As they developed the concept for this project, their ultimate standard bearers were the pairings of Gillian Welch & David Rawlings, along with Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons. While this was admittedly a lofty goal to attain, Chambers and Nicholson have brilliantly joined their talents to produce an extraordinarily well crafted project that is worthy to someday be counted in the pantheon of classic country music albums. Moreover, they’ve created an album that manages to resonate deeper and deeper with each successive spin.

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  1. JarheadDadNo Gravatar says:

    Way cool Leeann! I’ve been listening to them (well, Shane mostly) for awhile. I have a pretty good collection of Aussies that I really like.

    Here’s their pertinent intel:

    http://www.kaseyandshane.com/

    If you go to the kaseyandshane link you can click on “Music” on the top tool bar and give a listen.

    Here’s something for you Left Coasters for tomorrow:

    Kasey, Shane and Bill have left on a short tour of the US to promote the album release of Rattlin’ Bones, thru Sugar Hill Records. Checkout the tour date section for gigs. They are also doing an Instore at Ameoba Records in LA on Sept 19.

    Really great catch Leeann. I love these two. The traditional sound is simply awesome! :-)

    Oh yeah, I forgot. I removed Shane’s link and will put it in a new post to save the whole moderation thing!

  2. JarheadDadNo Gravatar says:

    Shane’s got some smooth stuff on his site as well:

    http://www.shanenicholson.com/

  3. I’ve looked for this everywhere but it looks like I’ll have to order it online. Damn iTunes Canada and it’s weird selection of songs.

  4. JarheadDadNo Gravatar says:

    I pulled these from my new artists playlist:

    Rattlin’ Bones

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpVcOodfGKE

    Live performance of The House That Never Was

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iDdtPXBJNuA

    Rattlin’ Bones is a song that could be right out of the Steve Earle “Copperhead Road” songbook! ;-)

  5. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Jordan,

    It’s definitely worth buying online!

    I don’t know if anyone would realize this, but this is my first 5 star rating. I’ve learned that the most difficult album review to write is the one that’s 5 stars. While I wanted to get the review out as soon as possible so that people might be compelled to buy it as soon as possible, I also had a little trouble capturing my love for the album in the effort to write the review so soon. Each time I listen to it, I get more and more out of it. It’s been awhile since I’ve loved an album so much.

  6. Jim O says:

    Spot on with this Leeann.

    I can only doubt your selection of the most, amongst many, haunting songs. For me this would go to “Wild Flower”. This is also my favorite at the moment.

    I found “Jackson Hole” lyrically as well as sonically intriguing. I had never heard of this place. Curious how a couple of Ausies came up with this as a song hook.

  7. John MagliteNo Gravatar says:

    Nice review, Leeann. I’ll have to look into this album.

  8. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    Great review Leeann! I just might have to check them out!

  9. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    Jim, I like “Wild Flower” too (though there isn’t a song on the album that I don’t like), but it’s not my favorite. Who knows, I’m sure this is an album where my favorite will change over time.

  10. JonathanNo Gravatar says:

    Terrific review here, Leeann. This is one of those records that I really wish I’d had more time with before my review deadline: I’ve found it hard to listen to everything else I have on the docket because I just don’t want to take this one out of my CD player.

    What was most interesting to me about Rattlin’ Bones on first impression is that it’s something of an about-face for Chambers, since her last two albums both went in more polished Adult Top 40 / AAA directions. Even though I don’t think that style is where her natural gifts lie, she’s a strong enough singer-songwriter that she was able to pull it off, especially on Carnival. While it was something of a surprise that she and Nicholson went in this direction, it was certainly the right choice for this material, and they really knocked it out of the park.

    I agree that “One More Year” is the standout cut: Chambers does that type of vulnerability better than just about anyone. What I love about her, though, is that she’s just as effective at ripping hearts out (there’s a bite in her voice on “Sleeping Cold” that proves how great singing is more than just hitting the right notes) as she is at breaking them. And, as much as I always imagined that she’d be a hard person to sing with, Nicholson’s voice really blends perfectly with hers.

  11. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    “This is one of those records that I really wish I’d had more time with before my review deadline: I’ve found it hard to listen
    to everything else I have on the docket because I just don’t want to take this one out of my CD player.”

    That’s exactly how I felt, Jonathan.

    Great points about the unexpected direction of this album. I’m sure glad they settled on this.

  12. I can’t wait to hear this. Great review!

  13. dgf says:

    I just got to see the two perform in the dc area 2 days ago. absolutely mesmorizing. just kasey, shane, and her dad. although i had literally just downloaded the album before i left for the show (yea…napster, boo iTunes), just zipping thru the songs made it clear there were absolutely zero bad songs.

    They were so relaxed and quaint on stage…she told a great story about “one more year”. shane wrote it by himself, was anxious to put on his album. she wanted to sing it so bad. she told him it was such a great song, the only thing that could make it better was if she sang on it…tongue in cheek the whole time, but she got her way. she also jokingly said that if they divorce, he gets the kids and she gets the song.

    great record, great show…short tour, but see her if you can. last, but not least, of course…a dirge like version of the captain with only shane on piano. wow!

  14. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    This isn’t my favorite Kasey album, not by a long shot, but I do like it. I also agree with whoever (on the 9513?) that said it varied too much by song. Still a good album though.

  15. [...] of very good albums in the past year, I am pained to realize that I have only been able to give one album the coveted five star rating treatment. It’s true that I have not listened to every album that [...]

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