KASEY CHAMBERS Dragonfly (Essence/Warner)
If I tell you that Dragonfly is a solid Kasey Chambers album does that make you feel good or concerned? Whether you fall for or fall away from this album may depend on that answer.
Other words to apply here are thorough, respectable, attractive, rocking (in parts), touched with bluegrass, wordy, momentarily pop-ish, relatively impersonal, briefly weirdly personal (though only partly true), and not short of songs thank you very much.
Dragonfly is a double disc of aligned but not identically resolved albums: one called the Sing Sing Sessions; the other the Foggy Mountain Sessions, with one song in common.
The Sing Sing sessions was produced at Victoria's Sing Sing studios by Paul Kelly, who duets on one song (the high stepping, moonshine-drinking, Hey) as one of two guest vocalists on this disc, with Foy Vance the other.
The Foggy Mountain Sessions was produced at his Central Coast NSW Foggy Mountains studio by Nash Chambers, who doesn’t sing on the record but did handle guest voices Keith Urban, Vika and Linda Bull, Harry Hookey and some little known Brit, Ed Sheeran.
So that’s the mechanics, for these 20 tracks/19 songs. And not a dud track in there. But also few that are really exciting and take Chambers beyond efficiency to inspiration.
That’s especially true of the Sing Sing Sessions which begins with a banjo-led mountains gospel, Pompeii, about the trials, tribulations and eventual decadence of Rome (which is “bound for the fate of old Pompeii”), and ends with a bit of slide guitar-punctuated chugging rock that recalls Kelly’s long gone band the Coloured Girls.
It is the more musically adventurous of the two discs, disporting itself through hard treading gospel rock (Ain’t No Little Girl), a Powderfinger-esque ballad (Summer Pillow), back porch picking (Golden Rails) and a brooding folk number (Jonestown) before the album is halfway through.
There’s also a re-examination of Romeo & Juliet, a fun bit of harmonica-and-barely-suppressed-laughs altered life history in Talkin’ Baby Blues and, a charming bit of Americana storytelling in Behind The Eyes Of Henri Young. All good fare.
And yet, and yet …… it never reaches any great heights. As well done as everything is, it lacks the emotional punch – in writing or voice - that characterises the best Chambers songs. Consequently, few things here leave any lasting mark.
The Foggy Mountain Sessions also starts with some country gospel in Shackle & Chain, though it is closer to the cotton field and slave shack than the mountain church of Pompeii, for the next eight tracks hews closer to that territory.
Even when guitars get crunchier in If I Died and things get gently bluesy in the closing alternate take on Ain’t No Little Girl, or the song gets into contemporary Nashville, as it does with the easy tempo If We Had A Child (which features Mr Urban) and the low horizon Annabelle, it is always country ground being trod.
There’s an easier feel to this disc, a more natural flow that lifts several songs into play-again-immediately territory. Were this the album proper it would be more low-key but ultimately more satisfying than if the Sing Sing one stood alone.
As it is, it’s a package deal and with these 20 tracks it’s fair to say Dragonfly deserves respect but, on balance, it doesn’t win lasting love.