On Barricades & Brickwalls, Kasey Chambers exceeds the high standards that critics had already attached to her even at age 25. The instrumental tracks, raw and unpretentious, provide an ideal setting for her vocals, whose hint of world-weary reflection suggests significant growth even in the brief span of time since her American debut, The Captain. The material is presented concisely, never so much as a verse too long; from the title track, a menacing meditation on obsession, to gentler and more traditional reflections such as "On a Bad Day," Chambers delivers each lyric with disarming artlessness, after which the music simply stops or fades without flourish. Images of restless and rootless wandering crop up repeatedly, appropriate in different ways to a variety of settings: a "lonesome whistle cries" like a promise of danger in "Barricades & Brickwalls," while "the railway line" points toward a chaos of ecstasy on "Runaway Train" and "the whistle blows" rumors of faraway wonders through the desolation of her homeland on "Nullabor Song." Chambers is strongest when evoking these metaphors of distance, isolation, and redemption; on harder-edged material, such as the rock-oriented "Crossfire," she seems, by comparison, a step or two outside of her comfort zone. The replication of a Patsy Cline vibe on "A Little Bit Lonesome," complete with vintage production and bouncy fiddle fills, clarifies that Chambers draws from the most vital currents that feed the body of her chosen tradition. Guest appearances by Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, and Matthew Ryan further authenticate Barricades & Brickwalls as prime-cut Americana -- an ironic appellation, perhaps, given Chambers' Australian roots, but appropriate nonetheless.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Robert L. Doerschuk
feat: The Living End