Kasey Chambers quickly made the transition from interesting new country artist in Tamworth, to mainstream success in 2001/02, when her album Barricades and Brickwalls, and the first single lifted from that album, the self-penned Not Pretty Enough, both occupied the #1 position on the Australian charts at the same time, this had never happened before.
Kasey’s emergence was no overnight success, she was twenty-five years old, had already released three singles which failed to chart and one album, The Captain, in 2000, which showed considerable promise and charted at #15 for her first top twenty hit.
The Chambers were a musical family, father Bill led their Dead Ringer Band, and with brothers Nash and Billy, and Kasey, they toured locally in their home state of South Australia and were the stars of the annual Tamworth Country Music Festival.
Kasey is a creative songwriter and performer and her breakout single Not Pretty Enough, had a defiant air of protest which appears in the first line of the song, and is the title.
She was used to her music being rejected by radio stations and record companies who wanted to put her in a C&W box. She also felt the anguish of a woman trying to make her way in an industry which was increasingly focused on the sexualization and commodification of female performers, who by and large, did not look or sound like Kasey Chambers.
The song intros with acoustic guitar and keyboards, it is a subtle sound palette over which Chambers vocals are vulnerable, artless, while at the same time she is quite precise, direct, and unpretentiously strong, there is a yearning quality to her voice which resonated with fans, she invoked empathy from those who have felt “not pretty enough” at some time in their life.
Family members played on the record and her brother Nash produced the session, her chart success with both the single and the album, which sold over half a million copies, alerted the world to a performer who had a clear-eyed, quirky take on country music, eschewing the syrupy sentimentality of her US peers, who would take her next three albums, Wayward Angel, Carnival, and Rattlin’ Bones, straight to #1.
In 2003 Kasey covered the Cyndi Lauper hit of 1986 True Colors, songwriters Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly had originally offered the song to Anne Murray who passed on it, Lauper included the song on her True Colors album, it was the only track that she had not written herself, and it became a US #1 on release.
The original demo of the song was strongly influenced by such gospel ballads as Bridge Over Troubled Water, Let It Be and Lean on Me, but Lauper stripped the arrangement right back and delivered a simple, starkly beautiful ballad with heartfelt lyrics about the inner beauty of people.
Chambers rendition was faithful to Cyndi Lauper’s original, the two singers have similar voices it became Kasey’s second top five hit and was the theme song for the 2003 Rugby World Cup.
Over the journey since 2000 Kasey has won 12 ARIA awards out of a mammoth 32 nominations and will be inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2018.