Courtney Chambers – Tales of the Aftermath
One might think, often a brief examination of Courtney Chambers’ career and before hearing her for the first time, that she hasn’t perhaps put herself “out there” enough to earn widespread mainstream success. Her latest album, Tales of the Aftermath, represents only her fourth album in 10+ years. Listening to one or two of the songs on the album will, however, quickly convince any of the aforementioned doubters that Chambers might be many things, but slapdash and poorly considered isn’t one. The new album’s ten tracks have few discernible flaws in their construction – every passage resolves itself with satisfying results, lyrical concepts sound completely worked out rather than half-baked and/or rushed, and the running order has a dramatic flow that seems dictated by the material’s character rather than arbitrary considerations. The album’s production is, likewise, quite natural sounding, but it’s equally apparent that great care has been shown to present these songs in the best possible sonic light.
“Fool in Me” begins the album with a strong example of this approach at, or near, its zenith. Chambers’ songs are atmospheric without ever belaboring the point and while this must certainly point to the skills of her musical collaborators, it’s even clearer that Chambers is among the rare performers with genuine songwriting vision. Whether such vision arrives piecemeal or springs full born from her forehead, this review can’t say, but it inhabits every note of the song. “The Bitter End” will, indeed, make some listeners shift uncomfortably in their seats when they give it an attentive listener, but Chambers tempers the lyrics with her impressive phrasing and another strong band performance. “Young Lovers” is another atmospheric ride replete with blurry, reverb skewed guitar fills and a slinky, if not outright sultry, Chambers vocal.
“Extraordinary Lives” surges with inspiring vitality thanks to powerhouse drums that never lets up from the first snare snap on. The piano playing sparkles as well, but it’s Chambers’ lyrical skill that leaps to the fore here with a well-written and thoughtful lyric. Piano and vocal carry much of “Heart of this Man”, but there are other light instrumental touches adding color to this track. The spotlight fixes on Chambers’ breathy, evocative vocal and an accompanying performance on the keys that gives the song a memorable counterpoint. The jaunty guitar work out on “Wasting Time” takes a welcome detour into slightly twisted folk-rock, but Chambers rises to the challenge with a gritty performance. “Winter” ends the album on a gray, wistful note, but the ultimate mood is one of survival despite the song’s desolate presentation and feel.
Tales of the Aftermath is a comprehensive work that revels in stylistic shifts and assorted points of view. Courtney Chambers captures attention for her songwriting, but her vocal talents are equally considerable and she’s the unquestioned musical star of this release. Her deceptively wide range is capable of hard-nosed realism, tenderness, and seducing the listener – in some cases, all within the same song. Few albums in 2015 are as satisfying as this one and, as a new fan, this reviewer can only hope we don’t have to wait long for another
9 out of 10 stars.