By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
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By Tom Murphy
On the morning before the first birthday of her firstborn, Australian singer-songwriter Kasey Chambers slept late, and with good reason. The previous evening, her son Talon lived up to his rather fierce name by fighting a mostly successful battle against slumber. "He's actually done quite well lately," Chambers says in an unexpectedly chipper voice, "but he spent the night before last at his nana's -- my Mum's -- and I think she might have spoiled him. But that's what nanas are for."
Although this story makes Talon's family seem fairly typical, it's been anything but since Chambers went over the top in the land Down Under. Her first two albums -- 1999's The Captain and 2002's Barricades & Brickwalls -- earned deserved critical huzzahs, platinum sales and a batch of fabulous prizes. In late May, at an awards ceremony staged by the Australasian Performing Right Association (the equivalent of stateside organizations such as ASCAP or BMI), Chambers's "Not Pretty Enough" was declared to be both the year's best song and the "most performed Australian work" of 2002. "I was really surprised," Chambers notes of her victory over the likes of clothing-optional chanteuse Kylie Minogue. "And I hope to hell it happens again."
Of course, popularity on this scale has kept Chambers on tour for much of Talon's life, and instead of leaving him in the care of others, she and her partner, Cori Hopper, have opted to take him along. That doesn't make for the most normal routine, either, but compared to the circumstances under which Chambers was reared, it's Ozzie and Harriet material. She spent most of her first nine years living with her parents, Bill and Diane Chambers, and older brother, Nash, on the Nullarbor Plain, a vast and virtually treeless expanse where Bill made a living of sorts hunting for foxes. It was an austere and isolated way to come of age, but one also marked by rare and addictive beauty. As Chambers sings in "Nullarbor Song," a highlight of Barricades, "If I'm not here in the morning/I'll cry a river of tears/I'll learn to live in a new town/But my heart is staying here."
6:45 p.m. Friday, June
Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Telluride
There are advantages to a less-primitive existence. "We had to hunt for our food, so I feel lucky that I can go down to the store and buy normal baby food for Talon," Chambers acknowledges with a laugh. "I think I'm a bit luckier now in a certain way than when I was growing up, but the fact that I was exposed to such a different lifestyle -- well, I was pretty lucky to have had that as well."
The end of the family's lengthy camping trip was brought about not by a sudden desire for ordinariness, but by a leap into another odd career: show business. Bill and Diane were musicians with a love of American country and folk music, among other things, and in 1986, they began gigging in public again. Soon, Kasey and Nash joined them in what was dubbed the Dead Ringer Band. The chemistry was as natural as natural could be. "My mum didn't sing -- she played bass -- but my dad and my brother and I did. And there was just a way that our three voices blended that I don't think I've blended with since."
Ensembles with members connected by blood are a tradition when it comes to C&W in this country (think of the Carter Family), but in Australia, "it was unique, and still is, really," Chambers notes. "You often have, maybe, a brother or two brothers in a band. But as far as having a mum, dad and two kids, I don't know of any time that's happened here before. People were just kind of fascinated with the fact that two kids went out on the road with their parents and played in a band."
Indeed, the Dead Ringers quickly won a following, not to mention a slew of industry plaudits; for example, Bill's "Things Aren't the Same on the Land," recorded by Slim Dusty, was named the best song of 1992 by the Country Music Association of Australia. However, acclaim couldn't keep Bill and Diane together. Chambers was on the cusp of her twenties when they split up their marriage and the band -- a pair of shocks that left her shaken but not shattered.
"It was definitely a traumatic time," she says. "But Nash and I were old enough to realize that a marriage breaking up didn't necessarily mean the family would break up. I think it's a lot harder when you're young; you blame yourself. But we never really went through that, because we were old enough to know that they were better off being apart. They weren't happy together, and if you're not happy, why stay at it? That helped me to get through, because I saw the logic of what was happening. Looking back on it now, they're definitely much better friends now than they've ever been; they kind of rose above everything, even though they went through some hard times. They still manage to come out on the road with me -- both of them -- and they enjoy each other's company, and neither of them regrets their marriage. I admire them for that."