As we all learned from watching There Will Be Blood, ambition can be a good thing and a bad thing. On her fourth solo album, Carnival, Kasey Chambers seemed determined to move past the country influences that dominated her earlier work, and while she proved more than worthy to the task, the album also upped the creative ante in a way that raised unspoken questions about what Chambers would or could do for an encore. So the surprise is that for album number five, Chambers has seemingly taken a step back -- Rattlin' Bones is a spare, primarily acoustic set she wrote and recorded in collaboration with former Pretty Violet Stain vocalist Shane Nicholson (who also happens to be Chambers' husband). With its concise arrangements and Appalachian accents, Rattlin' Bones plays like an effort to reclaim some of the country feeling she gave up on Carnival and return to more familiar surroundings, except for one little thing -- this is as good and as compelling an album as Kasey Chambers has ever made. The good news is that Chambers and Nicholson are as fine a match in the recording studio as they presumably are at home, and his high lonesome tenor blends beautifully with the emotionally charged nooks and crannies of her one-of-a-kind voice. Chambers is still a top-shelf songwriter who can document common scenes of life with uncommon pathos and attention to detail, and Nicholson's contributions are equally intelligent and just as effective. Most of Rattlin' Bones sounds like it was laid down live in the studio, and the communication between the vocalists and the musicians is a beautiful thing to hear, whether they're calling up the shade of death on "Sleeping Cold" or gracefully contemplating the tricky side of love on "Wildflower." Rattlin' Bones is an album that sounds simple on the surface, but it never feels lazy or short on creative vision -- Chambers and Nicholson have found something elegant and emotionally powerful in the pared-down production and arrangements of these sessions, and the music they've created is a wonder to behold, as if they found a way to make a wildly ambitious musical statement without asking you to believe that's what they had in mind. A neat trick, that.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming