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LIVING: REVIEW - SPECIAL KASEY; Soulful Aussie gets unflinchingly personal KASEY CHAMBERS Barricades & Brickwalls (Virgin).

Byline: PAUL COLE

HER name begins with K, she's from Australia and her records sell by the truckload. But there the comparisons with chart queen Kylie end - because Kasey Chambers is very much her own woman.

The bad girl of Aussie roots music defies country convention. She dresses casual, plays down her looks and sports a stud through her lower lip. Her music is no less individual, and is often unflinchingly personal.

It is also, as her fans Down Under rightly proclaim, abso-bloody-lutely wonderful.

Whether swaggering shamelessly in the rock setting of the title track or singing brokenly about the world's woes on hidden cut Ignorance, her distinctive drawl is captivating.

She moves effortlessly between styles, ranging from a traditional cover of Gram Parsons' Still Feeling Blue to a rollicking Crossfire, on which she's backed by Aussie rockabillies The Living End.

Since one of Kasey's songs was featured in TV's The Sopranos, she's picked up celebrity fans including Steve Earle, Dwight Yoakam and Lucinda Williams, the singer who first inspired her.

Lucinda guests here on Hank Williams-styled cut On A Bad Day. Other cameos include Paul Kelly, Matthew Ryan and Buddy Miller, but at no time do they upstage the young Australian songbird.

She's best when she bares her soul. A Million Tears is so close that Kasey's never dared play it live, and If I Were You - advice to a potential lover - is an imploring plea to be noticed.

No such problem with this set. It is, quite simply, one of the best albums you'll hear this year.

THE GOO GOO DOLLS Gutterflower (Warner Bros) THE first album in four years from John Rzeznik's melodic rock trio is pretty much business as usual - as if they'd never been away, in fact. Their seventh studio set ranges from the opening rock riff of Big Machine to the gently acoustic Sympathy and string-backed ballad It's Over - surely a single in the making. It's all radio-friendly fodder which rarely raises itself to any great heights, although the anthemic Here Is Gone builds into a Hey Jude-like mantra and the gruff vocal on What Do You Need? recalls Gavin Rossdale's work with Bush. Goo but not great.

CRAIG ARMSTRONG As If To Nothing (Melankolic) BEST-KNOWN in recent years for his soundtracks for Baz Luhrmann's Romeo & Juliet and Moulin Rouge, Armstrong also wrote Texas breakthrough hit I Don't Want A Lover. This solo set, however, reflects his cinematic ambition. From opener Ruthless Gravity with its insistent synth motif, it's a soundtrack without a movie. Best bets are Wake Up In New York with former Lemonhead Evan Dando's rootsy voice and the more obvious Stay (Faraway So Close) which boasts Bono's vocal. Other guests include Mogwai and David McAlmont as the songs keep returning to that original theme.

THE BELLRAYS Meet The Bellrays (Poptones) OASIS svengali Alan McGee jumps on the retro bandwagon to introduce the UK to the maximum rock and soul of the Stateside band who cite The MC5 and The Who as influences. From the chaotic Too Many Houses In Here, it's a raucous rock tour de force with the powerful pipes of Lisa Kekaula straining against Tony Fate's overdriven guitar in an explosive set of songs recorded live in the studio. Testify, particularly, is a soul belter that sounds like The Commitments jamming with The Stooges as Lisa gives Robert Plant & Co a run for their money. A real ray of hope.

VARIOUS Art School Dancing (EMI) AS the 60s moved into the 70s, Harvest was THE label to be heard on - home of progressive rockers, singer-songwriters and the rest of the art school crowd. This compilation serves as a reminder of how pretentious they all were, from Third Ear Band's discordant Druid One to Ron Geesin & Roger Waters' Our Song, made up entirely of lavatorial body sounds. More down to earth are Deep Purple's Shield, Babe Ruth's King Kong and Battered Ornaments' Twisted Track, and there's Midland pop from The Move (The Minister), early ELO (Look At Me Now) and Roy Wood's Wizzard (The Carlsberg Special).

VARIOUS Big Bad Love (Nonesuch) THE soundtrack for the new Arliss Howard Vietnam veteran movie is an atmospheric mixture of Mississippi hill country blues and new songs from Tom Waits, Steve Earle and Tom Verlaine. While the old bluesmen add to the character of the film, it's the modern cuts that excite most. Waits is at his grizzled best, his ravaged vocal cords offering surprising tenderness on both Long Way Home and Jayne's Blue Wish. Earle's Goodbye is rootsily stirring but it's former Television frontman Verlaine who shines with sublime instrumental guitar on the chug-a-long Sleepwalkin' and moving Celtic-styled Spiritual.

PORTISHEAD PNYC (Go Beat DVD) LET'S be honest. You either love Portishead or they bore you to tears. I tended to favour the latter category - until I watched this live set recorded in the Big Apple with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. What makes it different from the trip-hop band's drifting studio sets is that it isn't polished to perfection. Hence Beth Gibbons' vocal wavers, Adrian Uttley's guitar is occasionally off-key and, hey, they even apologise at the end! Hallmarks like Numb and Glory Box are superb in their new settings, and the DVD also includes all the band's videos and an audaciously acoustic Wandering Star.

CAPTION(S):

KASEY CHAMBERS... new Aussie star
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:Apr 21, 2002
Words:889
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