Though country music is the product of many cultures - from the Scots-Irish who settled in the Appalachian Mountains to the Africans who worked plantations in Georgia - it's one of the most salient symbols of the American South.
Kasey Chambers turns this notion on its head, making some of the freshest alt-country around despite hailing from Australia.
The singer-songwriter got her start in 1986 as part of the Dead Ringer Band, an Aussie country outfit that also included her mother, father and brother. When her parents separated in 1998, so did the band, sending Chambers' life into a tailspin.
Taking her guitar to a small island off the eastern coast of Australia, Chambers poured her emotions into songwriting and emerged a year later with her solo debut,The Captain, which won an ARIA award (the Aussie equivalent of a Grammy) anda spot on theSopranos soundtrack that landed her tours with American country legends Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris.
However, it wasn't until her second studio album, 2001'sBarricades and Brickwalls, that Chambers became a household name among country-music lovers stateside. Thanks to a single called "Not Pretty Enough," the singer and her distinctive voice - think Lucinda Williams as a little girl or a melancholy cousin of Dolly Parton - rocketed to the top of Billboard's Top Heatseekers chart.
Since then, she's gotten married to Shane Nicholson (Australia's answer to Elliott Smith) and given birth to two children, yet hasn't let go of her game. In fact, she's teamed with Nicholson, who's had a successful run in a rock band (Pretty Violet Stain) and a solo pop album (It's a Movie) that USA Todayand many others placed on their best-of-2004 lists. The couple released their first joint album, Rattlin' Bones, last spring and will play the Barrymore Theatre this week.
Why this sudden union of two quite different songwriting styles? Chambers says collaborating to write and perform just seemed more organic than a duets album.
"We wanted an album that sounds like a band with two singers in it," she explained in an interview with Undercover magazine.
Whether that sound translates live is yet to be seen, but one thing's for sure: It's likely to turn your notion of country upside-down for good.