It was fitting Kasey Chambers and singing spouse Shane Nicholson chose the 32nd Port Fairy Folk Festival to preview their new duet CD Rattlin' Bones.

The picturesque Shipwreck Coast tourism retreat is due east across the border from Southend - the South Australian Limestone Coast port where the Chambers clan spent summers fishing for their supper.

Kasey also reminded her capacity crowds how her folks trapped foxes and rabbits on the Nullarbor during long cold winters.

And, of course, listened to the recorded music collated by family patriarch Bill.

< photo by J Koppel

So it was apt this was an acoustic show with Bill providing lap steel, banjo and guitar and Nicholson swapping guitar for banjo on some songs.

It was a stripped down version of their Central Coast combo the Lost Dogs who have also performed in Sydney and Tamworth.

The trio kicked off with a trip through Chambers back pages with staples Last Hard Bible and Not Pretty Enough - yes, songs one and two at this concert in tent No 1.

The performance was big on harmonic & bucolic bliss on This Flower, Hank homage A Little Bit Lonesome, Don't Need You Around and Bluebird.

With acoustic shows there're also more room for anecdotes.

So the audience learned Chambers and Nicholson named their infant son Arlo after Arlo Guthrie before honouring family patriarch Woody with a spirited revival of his classic Do Re Mi.

Chambers also tapped into her rich family tree by introducing her sire, sporting a new locally purchased hat, as Hillbilly Chambers for his revival of Illinois born bassist and singer-songwriter Rowland Salley's song Killing The Blues from his second solo disc Frozen Ground.

Bill's delivery owed more to the original by Chris Isaak sideman Salley and the John Prine version than the recent rebirth by Allison Krauss and Robert Plant.


Then it was changing of the guard to Nicholson - raised in Kingscliff in south eastern Queensland on a more urbane musical diet.

"I was a fan of Shane for five years before we went out together," Kasey confessed.

"I thought it would be cheaper if he was my husband - now that we're married he has to play for free."

Maybe it was appropriate that Nicholson performed the Tom Waits song Picture In a Frame.

Shane Nicholson - photo by J. Koppel

"I wrote The Captain when I was 17, I'm 31 now," Kasey explained, "It's the only song I have played in all my gigs."

But Chambers confessed she did not write or know the author of her a capella nod to gospel - The Mill Was Made Out of Marble.

She may have not known that Joe Glazer was the writer but she had no trouble with the verses.

"The mill was built on a garden/ no dust nor dirt could be found/ the air was clean and it smelled so sweet/ with the flowers and the trees all around."

"It was quiet and peaceful in heaven/ there was no clatter or boom/ and we heard the most beautiful music/ as we worked at the spindle and the loom."

Or the chorus - "and the mill was made out of marble/ the machines were made out gold/ and nobody ever grew tired/ and nobody ever grew old."

It was a riveting performance that was followed by The River and a trio of songs from their new disc Rattlin' Bones - featuring 14 of their original songs.


"Shane and I spent all of last year writing for this album that will be released on April 19," Kasey said in her preview.

"Well, we also gave birth to our son Arlo."

The singer also has another confession - the bottomless pit of song sources.

"Rattlin' Bones was the first song we wrote together," she added.

"It was also the first song Shane wrote with his pants off."

It's also the first song on the new album.

So it was no surprise their performance and death driven lyrical content were carved out of the arches of the gospel temple that Buddy and Julie Miller built.

The sombre song sentiments were a stark contrast to jovial revelations about intimate family secrets.

No doubt more family fables and song sources will be expanded upon on the trio's regional tour that starts 18 miles due east of Port Fairy at Warrnambool on May 7.

Chambers bragged that she had lured Nicholson into her unique rural culture.

"I've still got my own teeth and I don't eat road kill," Nicholson retorted before their spirited performance of another new tune Woe Is Mine - the new disc's finale.

But the most salient signpost to the content of the new album was Chambers intro for Sweetest Waste Of Time.

"We wrote this song after spending a week together listening to nothing but Gram and Emmylou," Chambers confessed.

The result was a template for not just that song but maybe the entire album.

Sure, this sneak preview cameo was drenched in memories of Buddy and Julie Miller and Gram and Emmylou.

But that wasn't the way this generous 20-song set finished.

Chambers delved into more modern history for the blissful Pony and then way back to her solo career birth for the rollicking We're All Gonna Die Some Day with Bill back on banjo.

But it was not a Chambers song that was the trio's final encore.

Instead they departed with the latter day Texan and Maine born March tourist Patty Griffin's Flaming Red - a parable about a pair of holy red shoes.

It was something none of the combatants or few of their chair bound, tent show fans sported in this steamy Shipwreck Coast sauna.


You'll be able to soak up more of the trio's musical marriage on Rattlin' Bones, out on Liberation Records in April, on their regional tour - the musical marathon steering a wide berth of the big smoke.

Maybe a financial bonanza for the bush and welcome relief from the agricultural and musical drought beyond the city limits.

And, of course, it will be a true reflection of support and reach of regional and rural radio and decentralised denizens than myopic metropolitan mainstream monopolies.

CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide with all tour dates.

Review by David Dawson

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