Courtney Chambers – Tales of the Aftermath
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.