Top 10 Americana Albums of the Decade: #1 – Barricades & Brickwalls by Kasey Chambers
Kasey Chambers’ 2001 CD Barricades & Brickwalls is the #1 album on my list. It has to be. No other album did for me what this one did. Essentially… this album is the reason I am a fan of Americana music, it’s the reason I’m an Americana DJ, and it’s the reason I write this Americana (and other stuff) blog. I know it sounds trite and simplistic, but this album changed my life. That’s the only way to say it.
I wrote about it back in September of last year as an Essential Album, and I don’t think there’s anything I could say here that I didn’t say there. Here’s what I wrote then…
In the spring of 2002, I was working as a Graduate Assistant at Morehead State Public Radio in Morehead, Kentucky. I mostly worked in the newsroom writing news and sports copy and anchoring the occasional newscast. On Friday nights, it was my job to sit in the broadcast studio and make sure nothing went wrong while we aired a few nationally syndicated music programs. Essentially, I would introduce a program, do nothing for an hour, and then introduce the next program.
I spent most of those Friday nights chatting with friends on line, making fantasy baseball trades, or just reading and doing classwork. Every so often, however, I would actually listen to the shows I was airing. One night, on a show called E-Town, I heard the voice of an Australian country singer named Kasey Chambers. The down under twang in her voice was unlike anything I had ever heard before. I wasn’t sure what I was hearing… but I knew I liked it.
The next week, I asked the music director at the station if he had ever heard of this Kasey Chambers person. He started raving about this thing called “Americana Music” and how great it was and how great Kasey Chambers was, and he gave me a copy of her CD, Barricades and Brickwalls that had just been released in the U.S. I still wasn’t sure what this Americana thing was he kept talking about, but I took the CD home for a listen. I had no idea at the time what that CD would lead me to.
I pushed play and was immediately met with the ominous guitar riff of the title track followed by Kasey’s distinctive vocal twang. I was immediately hooked. The song itself is a meditation on obsession. Kasey runs through a laundry list of things that have been placed between her and the object of her desires. Barricades and brickwalls, iron bars and big ol’ cars, locked doors, screaming and shouting… nothing will hold her back. In the chorus, she makes her intentions clear by declaring, “I’ll be damned if you’re not my man before the sun goes down.”
The rocking title track is followed by the softer “Not Pretty Enough” (the song that got my attention from the E-Town broadcast) and continues to mix ballads like “On a Bad Day” and “Nullarbor Song” with country weepers like “A Little Bit Lonesome” and “Still Feeling Blue” and alt-country blueprints like “Runaway Train” and “If I Were You.”
Each time I listened to the disc and read through the liner notes, I heard something different and discovered something new. The album became my gateway drug into Americana music. It was my introduction to Buddy Miller, who provided backing vocals on “Runaway Train.” I heard Lucinda Williams for the first time on “On a Bad Day.” The album also introduced me to Gram Parsons with Kasey’s cover of Parsons’ “Still Feeling Blue.”
Not long after I fell in love with the album, I discovered that Kasey would be appearing at a taping of The Mountain Stage just a few hours up the road in Charleston, West Virginia. Of course, I wanted to go see the show. I didn’t even care that I also had to sit through listing to four other artists who I had never heard of. Of course… those artists turned out to be Laura Cantrell, Dar Williams, James McMurtry, and Rodney Crowell with Kenny Vaughn.
Holy Cow! How could one artist and one album expose me to so many other artists who would all become such staples of my music collection just a few short years later? I don’t know… but Kasey Chambers did it.
I first heard Kasey Chambers and Barricades and Brickwalls in the early months of 2002. That summer, I began hosting Morehead State Public Radio’s nightly Americana program one night a week. The story goes on from there. Who knows what might have happened to me and my musical tastes without this album?
That’s it… my favorite album of the last decade. Earlier this year, I had the chance to meet Kasey Chambers and her husband Shane Nicholson when they played a show at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville. I told her the story of how her music led me to so many other artists and sounds. She helped fill my last decade with great music, and it was nice to be able to say, “Thank You.”