From the moment you hear those opening lines of Rattlin’ Bones, the first song that husband-and-wife team Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson wrote together, you know you are in the presence of something special.
The voices join and rise in a meeting as pure and as natural as a country morning. And they keep on doing it - obviously, these two were born to sing together - across the 14 extraordinary tracks of Rattlin' Bones, their first album together.
It's the start of a musical partnership that once more emphasises Chambers’ title as Australia's greatest alt country performer, and which introduces Nicholson as the perfect foil for her as a songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist.
For Chambers, it's a return to a sound that draws deep on the roots of country music, songs of yearning and hurt and hope, a place - like life - where joy and sorrow walk close at hand.
It is also proof that you don't have to be heartbroken to write songs that delve deep into the emotions. For this couple, last year was the happiest of their lives, punctuating the birth of their son Arlo with a low-key series of performances together and a flurry of songwriting that has produced a landmark album in the story of Australian country music.
This is premium-grade alt country, an album that can sit proudly on the shelf beside classics from the likes of Gram Parsons, Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch.
Amazingly, Kasey and Shane had never written together before.
A short tour in far north Queensland with Kasey, her father Bill and Shane swapping vocals, guitars and yarns in intimate mode to adoring audiences, helped light the fuse. And during a series of what-would-you-like-to-hear-next? shows with their casual covers band, The Lost Dogs, at a pub near their home on the NSW central coast, they found their voices blending together in a way that demanded further examination.
”Co-writing was something I had always wanted to do but I never felt comfortable with until now,” Chambers explains. “But with this, there’s no pressure, there’s no ‘We've booked this day, we have to finish something!’ “
Nicholson says: “Writing was a product of our environment, something that happened in and around our daily lives. And something that getting to know the Chambers family has shown me is that's a beautiful way to make music.’ “
For Kasey, music has always been a family affair, from her teenage years in family outfit the Dead Ringer Band then through a swag of ARIA Awards, Golden Guitars and APRA Awards as one of Australia's favourite artists, with brother Nash as producer and father Bill close at hand playing anything he could find with strings on it.
That team, now joined by Shane, was at the heart of Rattlin Bones’, recorded in a seamless week-long session at Jimmy Barnes’ Sydney studio over New Year.
The instrumentation is as direct and heartfelt as the songs, with acoustic guitars, dobro, banjo, lap steel and fiddle, leaving all the space required for two voices to work their magic.
Nine of the songs were co-written, the rest either written by Kasey or Shane. They range through the complete country palette, from the devoted lovers on the trad-sounding Sweetest Waste of Time through the bluegrass passion of The Devil's Inside My Head to the urgent, funky groove of Jackson Hole. If any more evidence is needed that two points of view can be better than one, look no further than the aching story of a relationship in trouble, One More Year.
“We didn't want a duets album, where people come together for a vocal collaboration and go on their way,” Kasey says. ”We wanted an album that sounds like a band with two singers in it. It feels that way to us. And we hope it feels that way to the people who hear it too.”