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Kasey Chambers

Bittersweet – 2015 (Sugar Hill)

Reviewed by Dustin Blumhagen

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CDs by Kasey Chambers

Australian songwriter Kasey Chambers has never managed to gain the profile elsewhere that she has Down Under, despite consistently releasing great albums as a solo artist and as a duo with her ex-husband. Almost a full year after initially releasing "Bittersweet," Chambers is giving the strong album an official U.S. release.

Since her debut in 1999, Chambers has always maintained a fiercely independent spirit. Over nine albums, she has explored folk, pop and blues music in addition to recording a covers album and collaborating on a collection of children's music. Her comfort in exploring different soundscapes serves her well here, which may be the strongest of her career. Drawing on genres that she has explored at various points, she compiles them into a diverse yet surprisingly cohesive album that expands upon her songwriting strengths.

Lyrically, we find her in an exceptionally reflective mood, delving into philosophical and religious themes. After the dissolution of a marriage, it would be natural to expect a melancholy breakup album, but as usual Chambers defies expectations. This is much more than a cathartic collection of sad and sappy songs. Instead, the lyrics take on the chameleonic shifting of the music.

On "Oh, Grace," a faint bluegrass tone accompanies the sweet vocals as Chambers portrays a man proposing to a woman in an exceptional folk tale form. It is admittedly awkward to hear a Christmas song tucked within a regular album, but the pretty charm of "Christmas Day" makes it a smile inducing spin any day of the year. Musically, it is reminiscent of Kacey Musgraves' "Merry Go Round" at times, but Chambers distinctive voice over the chorus ensures that she solely owns the song.

The most obvious acknowledgement of her divorce is evident on "House on a Hill," a crawling classic country song with plenty of weep worthy moments. But the sorrow that creeps through on that song is tempered with the upbeat declaration of "I'm Alive," which is a roaring dance friendly number. She exposes her wavering faith on "Is God Real?" an beautiful introspective track. On what is an already exceptional album, Chambers teams up with Powderfinger singer Bernard Fanning for the hauntingly tender "Bittersweet."

There are moments of pure indie pop, but these are balanced with prevalent banjo and acoustic guitar on other tracks. Kasey Chambers has always been a strong songwriter, but this collection is the first time she has fully entwined various genres in an effective package. As a whole, this is undeniably the highlight of an already exceptional career.