KASEY CHAMBERS, MATTHEW RYAN

Crocodile, 441-5611, $15 8 pm. Thurs., Feb. 21

KASEY CHAMBERS laughs a lot. Which would hardly be worth mentioning—she is, after

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Cry if you want to

Kasey Chambers makes beautiful music with the sorrow of the world.

KASEY CHAMBERS, MATTHEW RYAN

Crocodile, 441-5611, $15 8 pm. Thurs., Feb. 21

KASEY CHAMBERS laughs a lot. Which would hardly be worth mentioning—she is, after all, a healthy, successful 25-year-old—were it not for the fact that her second album is awash with enough tears to float the Lusitania. Eight of the 14 tracks on Barricades & Brickwalls (Warner Bros.), the follow-up to her critically lauded debut, The Captain, mention turning on the waterworks.

Fortunately, the Australian country singer isn't quite so emotionally overwrought as the heroine of her new "A Million Tears." Or, at least, she doesn't let it show. "My mum tells me that when I'm down, I have a bad habit of bottling it up and making out that it's not there," she admits.

Instead of sharing her woes, Chambers says she's more prone to hide in her bedroom and write. "Mum's always saying, 'You don't talk to people. . . . '" In fact, the new "On a Bad Day," which features her friend Lucinda Williams on backing vocals, was directly inspired by her mother, Diane, "telling me that too often. Maybe I need to take some of her advice."

Maybe, maybe not. Since Chambers' heart-on-her-sleeve songwriting, coupled with a throaty singing style that blurs the borders between strength and vulnerability, have made her a bona fide star in Australia and a serious contender in the States, questioning her inspiration could potentially spell the end of a promising career. "Which means it's detrimental to [my mother] as well," adds Kasey, "because she's my merchandise lady." In fact, the whole Chambers clan—who cut four albums together as the Dead Ringer Band before Kasey went solo—works with her: Bill, her father, plays in her band; brother Nash is her producer and manager.

Barricades & Brickwalls also features a secondary recurring theme: trains. Although Chambers lays part of the blame at the feet of Canada's Fred Eaglesmith ("I know at least five or six of his albums by heart, and I can't think of one that doesn't have a train song on it."), her fascination with iron horses is partially autobiographical, too.

For the first 10 years of her life, Chambers lived in Australia's desolate Nullarbor Plain, where the family spent seven months a year hunting fox and rabbit for their skins; in the evenings, they sang Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons favorites around the campfire. "Our only contact with civilization was the sugar train that runs right through the Nullarbor, from Sydney to Perth," she recalls. "We would stop and get all our supplies from it. That was the only time we would see people when we were living out there."

From a teenager raised on the plain, to a mother to be (she's expecting her first child in May) feted by everyone from David Letterman to the producers of The Sopranos, Chambers has also matured as a songwriter over the last few years. "I'm a lot more honest now," she opines. "It's funny, because when I wrote The Captain, I was being as honest as I possibly could at that point in my life. But as honest as you ever get when you're a teenager, it's still not very honest."

Perhaps the best example of her newfound frankness is the hidden track that closes Barricades. A litany of tragedies stitched together with admissions of denial, "Ignorance" climaxes with Chambers railing, "If you're not pissed off at the world/Then you're just not paying attention." She penned the song as a reality check at a point when her career was progressing better than she ever imagined. "Sitting down and writing that was just [part of] a realization that, 'Hey, just because your life is going great right now, there's no less suffering in the world because of that.'"

Not exactly the sort of sentiments pop singers, especially young ones, are expected to espouse, as she hints on "Not Pretty Enough," a thinly veiled dig at play-it-safe radio programmers. But no matter. Judging from the powerful responses she's evoked to date, including two major wins at the ARIAS (Australia's equivalent of the Grammy Awards), there's no question a sizable audience for Chambers' potent, no-frills artistry already exists.

Which is exactly why the young lady with the robust laugh writes so freely about shedding tears.

"I'm sure [Britney Spears] feels all the same things that young girls out there feel—and that I feel—but she doesn't sing about them and she doesn't promote them, and she makes it all sound rosy. And that's a really bad thing for young people, because they're under the impression that they have to be OK about everything and they have to look great all the time and have these perfect lives. But nobody does. That's the only thing I'm saying: 'It's OK to be sad and cry about things and be upset. It's OK if things don't go your way every day'."

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