Observers often compare Courtney Chambers to artists as diverse as Stevie Nicks and Sheryl Crow. While such comparisons are sometimes helpful for selling singles and tickets, they often miss the artistic point. Chambers emerges from Tales of the Aftermath as an artist never beholden to her influences. Her songwriting follows a similarly individualistic slant. Far from content reworking tired formulas and clichés, Chambers’ evocative writing balances the concrete with the suggestive in such a way that these are songs with a rare combination of intimacy and widespread appeal. The dramatic depiction of her experiences will resonate with many listeners.
Tales of the Aftermath opens with “Fool in Me”, a deliberately paced minimalist rocker with slapback guitars and a raw, visceral sound placing the band seemingly right in front of you. Light touches of reverb and ghostly organ drape the track in a soft, swampy atmosphere and even the dearth of changes or crescendos in the track doesn’t work against it thanks to the charged mood produced by the music. “The Bitter End” begins with a dry guitar stutter supported by ghostly keyboard color. While some listeners might squirm at her blanket denunciation of men, the lyrics are more nuanced than that and one can’t argue that Chambers is merely writing from personal experience. The brisk tempo and lean economy of the song give it tremendous appeal.
Minimalism is an obvious stylistic focus for Chambers and the approach reaps rewards on “Love and Music”. It’s another rueful reflection on the vagaries of romantic love offering up a simple, eloquently expressed comparison. The deliberate tempo ramps up nicely for a memorable chorus. “Forget the Gloom” foregoes the occasionally boisterous guitars of the opening tracks for a low-fi acoustic guitar shuffle lightly peppered with an assortment of electric guitar fills. The bluesy strains in Chambers’ voice emerge quite strongly here, but the tempo shifts are the song’s true highlight and carry the song perilously close to pure pop bliss. Chambers brings the piano to the fore on “Extraordinary Lives”, but it’s the marriage of the ivories and a lively rhythm section that distinguishes the track. The recording maintains the same sonic intimacy throughout and “Extraordinary Lives” is perhaps the album’s best example of production enhancing already strong material.
The piano remains center stage for “Heart of this Man”, but it takes a far more lyrical turn here than elsewhere. The smoky ambiance of Chambers’ voice is ideal for invoking her themes of disappointment, heartache, and regret. She sounds like Tori Amos with more weight and gravitas in her voice. Tales of the Aftermath concludes with another acoustic based track, “Winter”. It’s an appropriately elegiac note for the album to finish on and glistens with warmth and sincerity.
Tales of the Aftermath is a considered and deeply felt work with a variety of interesting musical textures and a thoughtful singer anchoring it all with her sensitive interpretative powers. Over the course of ten songs, Chambers weaves a delicate mood without ever lapsing into sentimentality or pandering to her target audience.