I first heard Kasey Chambers in maybe 2000 when my boss at the record store I worked at popped a promo copy of her first album, projecting the singer’s signature nasal drawl through the store. I spent a lot of my teenage years on a steady diet of alternative rock sprinkled with a little this or that. And while I’d occasionally enjoyed a country song, I’d never heard anything like this. My boss told me that she was alternative country. We shelved Kasey in our new little bluegrass section, for lack of fit anywhere else. And this unfittingness excited me.
The thing about Kasey Chambers is that everyone I’ve ever played her for has either been instantly enchanted or instantly repelled. I remember sneaking one of her later albums into the CD player at a Borders where I worked in college and having a man approach me to 1. ask me who this was and 2. tell me to turn it off because it was hurting his ears. Other customers on that same day demanded that I sell them a copy immediately.
Her voice is quirky-sweet and her lyrics lean toward the kind of poetic vibe that is often attributed to Bob Dylan. Unlike the more conservative country singers of popular radio, Kasey Chambers — who hails not from Appalachia but South Australia — does not shy away from taboos, making her righteous anthems extra perfect for bad breakups (a friend once advised me to stop listening to her for a while because “I know [redacted] is being a dick but this album is just going to drive you crazy.”), or shouting a “fuck you” into the vast hellscape of the patriarchy.
But she has range. She has joy.
“Like A River” from Kasey’s third album Wayward Angel is nothing but goosebump-y-beautiful elation. It’s charm and wonder. It’s the perfect comfort of love, of deep belonging, of the rich excitement of being alive. It falls a little toward more traditional country, but not far enough to lose the hardened edge I fell for — that weird, tough, hungry voice.
This is the voice I dare everyone to love. “Like A River” is the song that might hook you if Allison Krauss has ever tickled your stereo, if you live for Kesha’s most country moments (like “Hunt You Down” from Rainbow), if you loved Jewel in 1995 and but got bored when her second album came out. Kasey Chambers knows how to breathe fire while holding you close. And I dare you — go discover this treasure of a woman and listen to her heart as it opens for you like the rarest of flowers.
(Song Recommendation by E. Kristin Anderson)