Critics are getting passionate about Kasey Chambers. On the one side is the "Next Lucinda Williams" school of thought. On the other is the inevitable backlash. "Chambers can't hold a candle to Lucinda," skeptics bray. Yeah, and John Prine isn't as good as Bob Dylan. So what? Can't we simply appreciate both stellar artists for who they are?
Granted, Chambers, the current "It Girl" of the Americana music scene, was certainly influenced by Williams -- Gram Parsons, Steve Earle, Joni Mitchell, and a few others are obvious points of reference as well. And there can be no doubt that Chambers hasn't quite equaled Williams's world-weary insightfulness. But heck, she's only 25. Lucinda, at 49, is old enough to be Kasey's mom. And while Williams, on her last album, ditched country-rock jangle and bluesy grit in favor of slow- and midtempo ballads delivered in a lounge singer's voice, Chambers gives us tunes that sound like the songs Williams was laying down in the '90s.
Chambers's 1999 debut, The Captain, was an emotional sock in the jaw and a textbook example of what Americana ought to be. Her follow-up, Barricades and Brickwalls, is a bit more diverse musically while being just as articulate lyrically. She rocks on the title track, "Runaway Train," and "Crossfire." She's pure country on "On a Bad Day" and a cover of Parsons's "Still Feeling Blue." Bob Wills would nod in approval at the western swing of "A Little Bit Lonesome," and she gets downright acoustic on "The Nullarbor Song" and "Falling Into You." Comparisons to Williams are valid, but let's not get in a spitting contest over who's better than whom. Chambers proves on her second CD that she's a remarkable songwriting talent who should make a lot of noise for a lot of years.