Courtney Chambers – Tales of the Aftermath


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

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David Swafford