Rock N Roll View
California native Courtney Chambers doesn’t deserve comparisons to Stevie Nicks or Rickie Lee Jones. It isn’t because she doesn’t boast a comparable talent level. Instead, such comparisons are a disservice because, from the first song onward on her latest release Tales of the Aftermath, Chambers proves that her songwriting voice belongs to her alone and whatever debts she owed to iconic past figures are long since paid. All artists, no matter the medium, are continually growing if they care about their craft. Chambers has arrived at a crucial point in her decade plus long musical career where she is truly her own person and has synthesized the lessons of the past with her own idiosyncratic slant.
Much of the album concerns itself with the vagaries of love. Chambers doesn’t deal with simplistic emotions or write neat and tidy love songs; instead, the price for holding someone close is invariably just as high as the rewards or at least fraught with implications that the typical pop song doesn’t dare consider. However, Chambers never sentimentalizes or overplays her hand vocally with this material. Tracks like “Fool in Me”, “The Bitter End”, and “Young Lovers”, among others, plumb depths that the typical pop songwriter frowns on and deal with specificity and suggestiveness in a fascinating way. There’s redemption here as well – tracks like “Forget the Gloom” and “Extraordinary Lives” are infused with a mildly bittersweet spirit, but are ultimately affirmative works testifying to the great American author William Faulkner’s dictum that between grief and nothing, he would take grief. Perhaps we face difficulties, but ultimately, the bracing thrill of living redeems many of our disappointments and regrets.
The latter track, “Extraordinary Lives”, is perhaps the album’s lyrical and musical highpoint. Driven by drummer Joey Galvan’s assertive and steady timekeeping, Chambers sinks her teeth deep into a lyric full of poetic suggestion and dazzling concrete storytelling. Her voice bubbles with recognizable inspiration, like on every song, but it ascends to another level here and delivers a defining performance. The performance, however, would be an incomplete minor masterpiece without the contributions of her ace collaborators, particularly second guitarist Sean Hoffman.
Eight of the album’s ten songs feature the same lineup and they bring an added gravitas to the work that tailors itself to Chambers’ voice. Tales of the Aftermath flirts with multiple sonic textures and genre shifts, but the heart of the music is essentially Americana with artsy twist. The blues forms a backbone for much of what happens instrumentally – the 4/4 beats, the reverb spiked guitar effects, and the minor chord excursions are all familiar sounds that Chambers revitalizes for her use.
Tales of the Aftermath is a wonderful album from start to finish and this fourth release likely ranks as the best of Chambers’ illustrious career. If Chambers has yet to achieve half the recognition of her heroes and peers, it isn’t due to lack of skill. Instead, she shows herself to be a careful artist who develops material slowly with an eye towards maximizing its potential. She realizes her considerable potential here and lays the groundwork for even brighter tomorrows.
9 out of 10 stars.
Rock N Roll View
Working within the tradition of icons like Rickie Lee Jones and Sheryl Crow, Courtney Chambers’ fourth album Tales of the Aftermath sounds like the moment when the pupil begins to pull away from the teachers. She has surrounded herself with an outstanding cast of collaborators for this effort, including producer and guitarist Sean Hoffman, but there isn’t a moment on this album when Tales of the Aftermath doesn’t feel like a strictly personal affair and profoundly cathartic for its creator. It is a dangerous game when listeners begin assuming that a songwriter’s work is strictly autobiographical, but Chambers certainly encourages us, by implication, to hear her in such a way. When taken in such a manner, she is clearly among the bravest of songwriters working today as her material often presents well-rounded scenarios firmly grounded in realities of the heart. Her multi-instrumental talents are showcased here and, beyond her often lyrical piano playing, her contributions on guitar with Hoffman are an important part of the album’s success.
The interplay between the two gets its first airing on the atmospheric “Fool in Me”. Disregarding the odd implied pun of the title, this is a serious look at romance gone wrong. While such songs are certainly common fodder in pop music, Chambers twists her treatment of the material in a highly individualistic way through the sheer dynamic range of her vocal and how well it plays off the twin guitars. “The Bitter End” is a strong, assertive rocker that might make some squirm, but she grabs the lyric by its lapels and delivers a rousing vocal. “Love and Music” is another rousing track, a poppy near-anthem with an enormous chorus. “Young Lovers” sees Chambers and the band slow things down again and delve headlong into a superb blues that simmers with equal parts yearning and jealousy. Perhaps the album’s best track, “Extraordinary Lives” soars thanks to the percussive duet between Chambers’ piano playing and drumming Joey Galvan’s powerful work on the kit. It’s likewise the album’s heftiest lyric and veers into storytelling virtues that few of the other songs embrace outright.
Chambers keeps things slow with the gorgeous piano-driven ballad “Heart of this Man”. While it’s arguably the most traditionally presented song on the album, her songwriting distinguishes it thanks to the unique lyrical point of view. “Wasting Time” revisits rock and roll territory for a bouncy, yet slightly dissonant, near folk rocker that sounds a little like late REM crossed with an early 90’s Seattle band. It’s a difficult sound to categorize, but the track is easily one of the album’s high points. The finale “Winter” brings things to a gradual ending, like a snowflake gliding to the ground, and feels full of shadows. There’s a certain acceptance in the lyric, but Chambers can’t resist a light note of dread when she refers to her willingness to continue burning a few more bridges in her life.
It’s moments like this that drive home what a considered and intelligent work she’s produced. This goes far beyond the first three albums in two important ways – she has expanded her musical vocabulary a great deal and her lyrics are showing a continued willingness to explore new ground and adopt different voices. Tales of the Aftermath is an important work solidifying Courtney Chambers’ position as one of the foremost indie songwriters and singers working today.
9 out of 10 stars
Purchase Link: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/courtneychambers
Indie Artists Alliance
After listening to this album a few times, a number of possible verdicts arise. There is an unquestionable consistency on Tales of the Aftermath, the fourth full length release from California native and respected singer/songwriter Courtney Chambers. Her work with producer and second guitarist Sean Hoffman establishes its sonic parameters early on and respects those borders from the first note to last. Moreover, Chambers’ songwriting, already strong, has continued to improve since her debut release in the early 2000’s, Imperfect Like Me. Much of the earnestness has disappeared and has, instead, been replaced with genuine intimacy and a growing poetic vision able to transmute the specifically personal into something universal and, therefore, much grander.
However, there’s a lack of variation that’s troubling at some moments. The insistence on using reverb in every song will be heard by some as an indelible sonic signature while others will hear it as an arbitrary affectation. Certainly songs like the opener “Fool in Me” benefit greatly from such touches. There’s a Mississippi Delta ambiance that this California girl strikes on a track like this that should quickly convince any remaining non-believers or novices that she is the real deal. She wisely assembles a superb band for the album, starring Hoffman on second guitar, and Joey Galvan adds a tremendous amount with his powerhouse drumming on a number of songs. “Extraordinary Lives” has a thrilling pulse thanks to his work on the skins and “Wasting Time” equally benefits from his spirited and dependable timekeeping. The latter track is one of the album’s best thanks to its completely believable but surprising jaunt into lightly atonal, but hard-nosed folk rock. Hoffman’s guitar effects likewise strengthen the bluesy crawl of “Young Lovers” and compliments Chambers’ yearning vocal well.
The album seesaws between quasi-torch song tempos and upbeat shuffles without exploring much else. While it does deliver the groove-inspired album that press materials promise, listeners will likely feel a vague sense of disappointment at the lack of variety. It isn’t because what she gives us isn’t compelling – it is. The band, likewise, are clearly a collection of top shelf players. However, the feeling that she could be giving us so much more is very real. Tales of the Aftermath’s strongest songs stand above this. The aforementioned tracks, along with “The Bitter End”, give listeners more evidence than others of Chambers’ true potential. It is quite rare, twenty years ago or today, to discover female singers so adept at softer material and outright rock and roll. “The Bitter End” and the aforementioned “Wasting Time” are outstanding rock songs bristling with attitude and skill.
Despite any minor quibbles, Tales of the Aftermath represents another milestone in Courtney Chambers’ continued evolution as an artist. There isn’t any filler on the new release and each track will undoubtedly have, at least, a small contingent of admirers. This is an artist whose love for music is beyond question and whose focus only seems to sharpen with time.
8 out of 10 stars.
Indie Artists Alliance
In her decade plus playing in the competitive California music scene, Courtney Chambers has established herself as one of the leading talents in an impressive field. Her one of a kind voice, capable of straddling countless styles without apparent weakness, musical chops, and growing powers as a lyricist have earned her plum spots at top venues and a growing cadre of fans and admirers. These accolades and more to come are bestowed on her because, as her latest release Tales of the Aftermath makes clear, she is a singular talent. However, the new release shows her continued willingness to work with sympathetic and equally talented collaborators like Sean Hoffman. These outside artistic forces never chip away at Chambers’ individuality but, instead, enhance her presentation and introduce their own influences into the mix. The result is a heady brew with many flavors.
The predominant flavor, on many of the album’s songs, is a dark amber whiskey bite. On few tracks is that more pronounced than the opener “Fool in Me”, a groove heavy swamp blues that unfolds slowly and gives Chambers room to vocally stretch. She inhabits every corner of the song with her presence and, like the best singers do, shapes her voice around the instruments rather than attempting to sing over them. “The Bitter End” boasts the same blues growl at its base, but the uptempo beat and airy guitar flourishes are touches pulled straight from a rock and roll playbook. The lyrical content takes a darker turn than most of the songs on this album, but there’s a streak of defiance laced through the words that Chambers ‘ vocal clearly invokes. “Love and Music” is pure pop rock with a big chorus and deliberate pacing. The quasi-march tempo builds great tension but what seals the deal is Chambers’ gradually building vocal. Her vocal talent is tested like nowhere else on the stunning “Extraordinary Lives”, but the victory isn’t Chambers’ alone. Joey Galvan makes his mark with a wonderfully inspired drumming clinic that seems to invigorate everything around him.
“Wasting Time” is one of the album’s most convincing forays into rock with its cockeyed chords, fuzzed out effects, and the high energy riffing of Chambers and second guitarist Hoffman. Chambers leans hard on the song and makes it work for her with a saucy, entertaining vocal that reinforces she’s just as much home with the slower ballad as she is edgier material. “Rush In” shifts midway through from an intimate acoustic piece into a full on pop rock banger, but close listening to the lyrical content shows another song quaking with the intimacy so common to the album’s songs. The ending number “Winter” brings Tales of the Aftermath to a gentle, pensive close, but even here Chambers can’t resist shading the peaceful finale with hints of difficulties still clinging to her life.
Autobiographical or not, Tales of the Aftermath is the work of a writer who understands that staring deeply into one’s self is an essential experience for us all. There is immense bravery here and no one, not even Chambers’ narrators, escapes blame. The musical virtues of the album are legion and accentuated by a wonderful vocalist working at her prime.
9 out of 10 stars.
Skope Magazine Review
Tales of the Aftermath opens with “Fool in Me”, a deliberately paced minimalist rocker with slapback guitars and a raw, visceral sound placing the band seemingly right in front of you. Light touches of reverb and ghostly organ drape the track in a soft, swampy atmosphere and even the dearth of changes or crescendos in the track doesn’t work against it thanks to the charged mood produced by the music. “The Bitter End” begins with a dry guitar stutter supported by ghostly keyboard color. While some listeners might squirm at her blanket denunciation of men, the lyrics are more nuanced than that and one can’t argue that Chambers is merely writing from personal experience. The brisk tempo and lean economy of the song give it tremendous appeal.
Minimalism is an obvious stylistic focus for Chambers and the approach reaps rewards on “Love and Music”. It’s another rueful reflection on the vagaries of romantic love offering up a simple, eloquently expressed comparison. The deliberate tempo ramps up nicely for a memorable chorus. “Forget the Gloom” foregoes the occasionally boisterous guitars of the opening tracks for a low-fi acoustic guitar shuffle lightly peppered with an assortment of electric guitar fills. The bluesy strains in Chambers’ voice emerge quite strongly here, but the tempo shifts are the song’s true highlight and carry the song perilously close to pure pop bliss. Chambers brings the piano to the fore on “Extraordinary Lives”, but it’s the marriage of the ivories and a lively rhythm section that distinguishes the track. The recording maintains the same sonic intimacy throughout and “Extraordinary Lives” is perhaps the album’s best example of production enhancing already strong material.
The piano remains center stage for “Heart of this Man”, but it takes a far more lyrical turn here than elsewhere. The smoky ambiance of Chambers’ voice is ideal for invoking her themes of disappointment, heartache, and regret. She sounds like Tori Amos with more weight and gravitas in her voice. Tales of the Aftermath concludes with another acoustic based track, “Winter”. It’s an appropriately elegiac note for the album to finish on and glistens with warmth and sincerity.
Tales of the Aftermath is a considered and deeply felt work with a variety of interesting musical textures and a thoughtful singer anchoring it all with her sensitive interpretative powers. Over the course of ten songs, Chambers weaves a delicate mood without ever lapsing into sentimentality or pandering to her target audience.