Australian singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers has released five solo albums to date. The newest, Little Bird, might be the best one yet. It’s a nearly flawless collection of rootsy pop-rock with sharp lyrics and oodles of hooky melodies.
It’s also perhaps the most positive collection of songs Chambers has recorded. Gone are the days of “Not Pretty Enough,” where she plaintively wonders “Am I not pretty enough?/Is my heart too broken?/Do I cry too much?/Am I too outspoken?” On the album’s title track and first single, she’s in a similar predicament, singing “A little bird told me it’s plain as day/If I change my name and I change my way/You might come back,” but here she summons up some inner strength and comes to the conclusion “I don’t want you that bad.”
Okay, so there are a few sad songs—it wouldn’t be a country record without ‘em. “Somewhere” is a record’s worth of sadness crammed into three minutes and forty-seven seconds of broken promises, unanswered prayers, senseless deaths, and aching hearts. By song’s end, you’ll be joining Chambers and guest harmony vocalist Patty Griffin in being “all cried out.” Blistering rocker “Train Wreck” is “Somewhere’s” sonic opposite; Chambers’ vocals (which, granted, can be nasal and little-girly on occasion, making them something of an acquired taste for new listeners) careen like an out of control locomotive or an out of control relationship, backed by loud, unrelenting electric guitars. Like all the songs on Little Bird, “Train Wreck” was recorded live, which gives the whole track a wonderfully chaotic vibe.
Chambers draws upon a number of influences on these tracks, including early country, Western Swing, and rock n roll. Her influences shine through, with some amped up Jimmie Rodgers-esque yodeling on “Train Wreck” and also “Georgia Brown,” which feels like it could be a twangier version of a Chuck Berry song.
In addition to Patty Griffin, Little Bird boasts a top notch roster of guest stars, including Australian pop singer Missy Higgins, who contributes background vocals to the optimistic “Beautiful Mess,” husband Shane Nicholson (who, as you’ll remember recorded tour de force album Rattlin’ Bones with Kasey in ’08), father Bill Chambers, and Kevin Bennett, from the Australian country band The Flood.
Bennett teams up with Chambers on one of the record’s strongest tracks: “Love Like a Hurricane,” a sweetly sung, lap steel-buffered ballad that offers up the advice “Roll with the punches and laugh like a clown/And cry like the driving rain/Ask for forgiveness and drift like the wind/And love like a hurricane.”
The deluxe edition of Little Bird includes three additional songs. “Old School,” “Hold On,” and ode to friendship “Millionaires” (with Chambers’ own BFF, Beccy Cole) are pleasant enough for anyone who’s a Kasey Chambers completist, but none of them are must-listen songs the way the non-deluxe tracks are.
On the boisterous, banjo-and-Telecaster tune “Devil on Your Back,” Chambers sings what are perhaps the defining lyrics of Little Bird: “Don’t look back/Don’t waste time/Everything is gonna be/Just fine.”