If you didn’t know who made this album and where it was recorded, chances are you’d guess it was done in Appalachia or Nashville or some other Southern locale. This is original old-time music at its finest, direct from…New South Wales, Australia! Australian singer Chambers has built a small but devoted following in the U.S. over the past dozen years and counts rootsy American artists ranging from Emmylou Harris to Buddy and Julie Miller to Lucinda Williams as avid fans. Wreck & Ruin is the second album she’s made with her husband of seven years, Shane Nicholson, who has also enjoyed a solo career of his own the past decade in Australia. (Their first, which was somewhat similar in vibe and spirit, was 2008’s Rattlin’ Bones.)
Every song on Wreck & Ruin sounds as if it could have come from the Louvin Brothers or the Stanley Brothers or the Blue Sky Boys—there are no lyric nods to modernity at all, and with the exception of subtle hints of electric guitar and bass on a couple of tracks, the instrumentation is mostly acoustic guitar, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro and upright bass. Even thematically, this could be an album from the 1940s, with its songs about the “Dustbowl,” the “hobo hat” in “Rusted Shoes” and the duo’s backwoods take on the “Adam and Eve” story. Like so much classic old-time and bluegrass artists, our protagonists vacillate between the contentment of “Til Death Do Us Part” and “The Quiet Life,” and the inner torment evident in “Wreck and Ruin,” “Familiar Strangers” and the chilling last song, “Troubled Mind.”
Chambers’ and Nicholson’s harmonies sound so natural and effortless throughout (several times I thought of Emmylou with Rodney Crowell or Ricky Scaggs), and you can actually hear the husband-and-wife warmth and familiarity. Arrangements are unfailingly tasteful and uncluttered; the recording (primarily by Kasey’s brother, Nash Chambers) crystal clear. All in all, it’s a brilliant piece of work.
Produced and mixed by Nash Chambers, Shane Nicholson and Kasey Chambers. Engineered by Nash Chambers and Shane Nicholson. Recorded and mixed at Foggy Mountain Studios (Laguna, New South Wales, Australia); mastered by Jeff McCormack at Music Cellar (NSW, Australia). —Blair Jackson