Some albums never get old. This album is as fresh today as it was in 2009.
I realize that the United States is intent upon sending everything of value overseas, what with taxes and all, but I had no idea American music was part of the deal. For over 30 years, I have scoured the import racks just waiting to find someone overseas who could play country music with the same feel and authenticity as us Americans. (Modern Nashville doesn’t count — what authenticity is there is not born outside of the U.S.) I was just about to throw in the towel when Australian singer Kasey Chambers floated across my desk sounding like she was born and raised in Charlottesville, Virginia, of pure Virginia mountain stock. I hadn’t hardly turned around and she’d teamed up with another sure-fire mountain boy in Shane Nicholson, to put out some of the best damn roots music yet this year. Rattlin’ Bones would have made my Top Five list easily except I come to find out this ain’t really roots music—well, not their roots. I finally put my finger on a great album of American music and it turns out it’s from (gasp, er) Australia! I figure it’s some evil plot perpetrated by the Bush Administration, a last joke as it (and hopefully the people who supported it) turned to dust.
But this ain’t no joke. This is one of the finest albums of pure Americana and country this decade. Chambers and Nicholson not only have the voices to soar and blend, they have the understanding of what the music means. You cannot play it and come off authentic without that understanding. Why, Rattlin’ Bones could be the soundtrack of the Old West, or themes from the old mountain lifestyle. They have it down, from the sparing use of mandolin and the at times Everly Brothers harmonies to the dirt-beneath-the-fingernails aura. This music is American. Except that it’s Australian. It’s a conundrum, whatever that is. I thought something was off when they talked their way through a false start with mention of a guy named “Jymes”. I just thought my hearing was off.
Truth is, you have to be deaf not to get this album. There are fourteen tracks here, every one solid gold. “Sweetest Waste of Time” should be riding the top of Nashville’s charts right now, the harmonies straight out of sixties’ country (the best duet I’ve heard since George Jones and Tammy Wynette— pick your tune), the song pure magic. A little on the traditional folk side, “No One Hurts Up Here” is hymn-like in its vocal presentation—again, with outstanding harmonies. Revisit the sixties with “The House That Never Was” with upbeat chorus (again, the harmonies). A little dark Americana for effect (“Your Day Will Come”), some rockin’ blues (“Jackson Hole”), mix and repeat and you have everything you need.
The album is produced by Nicholson and Nash Chambers, who I assume is related to Kasey in some fashion. The duo smoked every track on the album, their recipes spot on to bring the best out in the sessions. And the best out in the session men, who are absolutely topnotch.
Still, I have to shake my head every time I hear this. I’ve been immersed in Charlottesville of late and this album reflects a lot of what makes that town intriguing, musically. It is great stuff, and while it’s not American, it surely sounds like it is. Makes me want to go down under to see what else is there. The Round Mountain Girls, for instance. I hear they’re not only not round, but not girls. I shake my head. Them Aussies are crazy.