After drifting away from her roots on 2006’s Carnival, Australian alt-country singer Kasey Chambers returns to basics on Rattlin’ Bones, a collaboration with her husband, singer-songwriter Shane Nicholson. Nicholson isn’t a country artist, but he proves the perfect counterpoint to Chambers here, and the two share a lovely vocal interplay and an easy intimacy that no doubt comes from their real-life personal connection. Bones isn’t a traditional duets album; it’s more akin to recent superstar collaborations like Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ Raising Sand or Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris’ All the Roadrunning, with the two singers intertwining voices rather than trading lines.
Carnival was heavily rock-oriented, but Bones is a generally acoustic affair, filled with fiddle, banjo, mandolin and other traditional country instruments; it’s easily Chambers’ most explicitly country album since her debut. And despite the presumable domestic bliss of the performers, the album is melancholy and bittersweet, with songs about foundering relationships and personal regret. Chambers has toned down her sometimes dippy self-help lyrics in favor of a more somber tone, and it adds to the overall old-fashioned feel. Songs like “The House That Never Was” and “The Devil’s Inside My Head” sound like casual back-porch jams, which is entirely likely how they started out.
Chambers is hugely popular in her native country, and it had seemed lately like maybe her stardom got the best of her, but Nicholson seems to have successfully grounded her in more ways than one.