Kasey Chambers

Storybook

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Aussie singer/songwriter Chambers buys time coming up with another set of originals with this all-covers album. Most of the tunes are newly recorded in 2011, but she does pad the list with a few tracks from earlier releases. Regardless, it hangs together well and she is clearly emotionally invested in this material, which formed her own artistic background, a point she makes clear in the short liner notes. Most of the artists she pays tribute to are obvious influences, especially for those who know her impressive catalog of bittersweet folk/country. It's to her credit that she digs deeper into the songbooks of Gram Parsons, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, and John Prine to unearth some terrific tracks that aren't particularly well-known. Not so much for Suzanne Vega ("do we really need another version of "Luka," especially one that is nearly a carbon copy of Suzanne Vega's?), Hank Williams (ditto for "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry"), and Cyndi Lauper's "True Colours," the latter already overdone. And with a catalog as rich and full as that of Gillian Welch, why choose her most recognizable composition "Orphan Girl"? Fellow countryman Paul Kelly appears for a duet on the Williams song, and Chambers does a nice job revisiting Kelly's terrific, moving story song "Everything's Turning to White." Lesser recognized songwriters James McMurtry (whose one personal interaction with the singer is not fondly remembered in Chambers' notes) and Matthew Ryan ("Guilty") help provide depth, although neither of her versions cut like the far grittier originals. There's nothing wrong with any of this since Chambers invests her girlish yet poignant vocals and the playing is consistently excellent. If you are already a fan, it's an agreeable venture, but she's not bringing much new to the table in terms of arrangements or her vocal approach. That doesn't make this any less genuine or heartfelt in terms of Chambers' often poignant commitment; however, it also seems like a missed opportunity to stamp these songs with her own personality by reimagining them to reveal fresh or previously unrealized subtexts. As it is, this seems like a batch of encore selections that might spice up her live shows, but taken out of that context, feel a bit too unadventurous on their own.

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