Don Chambers' tunes are lyric-driven, dark and evocative, conjuring Southern gothic myths. They're wrought of a web of familial woe and backwoods imagery, with a strong undercurrent of spooky religious portent.
Currently a longtime resident of the fertile Athens, Ga., music scene, Chambers grew up across the South Carolina border a member of a fundamentalist Plymouth Brethren church. Women and wolves inhabit his songs, moons and miracles provide local color.
But Chambers isn't some hokey cultural tourist exploiting stereotypes; his lyrics boast a heavy literate bent, and his attention to detail enriches and personalizes. His recent album Zebulon is his third with his backing band GOAT, and it straddles the raucous, impassioned backwoods rock that they can unleash and the quieter, more reflective, banjo-driven tunes Chambers featured on his 2001 debut solo album Back in the Woods. There's a little Johnny Cash and a little Sparklehorse alongside the Hank Williams and 16 Horsepower in Chambers' music, and with Zebulon and some upcoming touring, his songs could find a wider and well-deserved audience.
Words are important to Chambers, and he says they're the primary focus of his writing. He recently spent some time in Berlin, where he developed the habit of setting aside a few hours a day to just swing that hammer.
"I tend to be pretty wordy. I like a lot of words. You know, I love Dylan, and 'Visions of Johanna' is great. But I was really interested in boiling things down," Chambers says of the songs on Zebulon, which are more lyrically sparse and to-the-point than some of this past work. "I give a lot of thought to words and generally for me the music comes after that, or they come at the same time."
Zebulon was released last September on WARM Electronic Recordings, the Athens label with a penchant for the Southern gothic and the sepia toned, situating Chambers alongside labelmates like Liz Durrett, Phosphorescent and Azure Ray -- other artists with a talent for evocative lyrics, which Chambers says are the result of long hours of work.
"I don't wait for inspiration -- I believe in doing the work," says Chambers. "And if something comes off as inspired, it's because I spent six months doing a bunch of stuff that was complete crap. It's like making shoes -- you get better at making shoes the more you do it. And if you do it for long enough, eventually you come up with this shoe, this amazing shoe, that people are like, "That is the shoe!" And it didn't come out of nowhere, it came out of knowing how leather acts, and how feet work."
Patterson Hood, the Drive-By Truckers songwriter and frontman, is a longtime Chambers collaborator, friend and advisor; he produced some of the more fiery, swaggering tracks on Zebulon. Chambers and his backing band just wrapped a series of opening dates for the Drive-By Truckers.
Touring is a matter of chipping away and persevering until connecting with an audience -- the idiosyncratic yet accessible tunes off Zebulon have the capacity to, put in front of the right ears, do that. It's the same as Chambers' workhorse approach to songwriting.
"It's like exercise," he says, and brings that to the stage in a solo show this week, with Athens hard-rockers Mother Jackson opening.
Don Chambers, Mother Jackson
When: Saturday, April 4
Where: Live WIre Music Hall
Info: donchambersmusic.com, myspace.com/donchambers