mon 20/08/2018

CD: Michael Chapman - 50 | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Michael Chapman - 50

CD: Michael Chapman - 50

Masterful songwriting from the venerable British singer-songwriter

Michael Chapman's '50': energised

50 is titled to mark fifty years of touring. Now 75, Michael Chapman released Rainmaker, his first album, in 1969. Though well-known devotees have never been lacking – Bowie recruited Mick Ronson after hearing his playing on a Chapman album; Elton John wanted Chapman for his band – his lengthy presence has not brought Chapman the stature of contemporary and similarly idiosyncratic British singer-songwriters like Roy Harper or John Martyn. Yet, he endures.

The swift follow-up to 2014’s The Polar Bear is ample evidence why. 50 opens with the atmospheric, energised and rolling “A Spanish Incident (Ramón and Durango)”, a story song of biding one’s time while stuck after a car break-down near the mountains close to Durango. It could be prototypical acoustic-bedded Americana but the Leeds-born Chapman’s voice has an alluring Dennis Hopper-esque weariness and a gripping, soaring minor-key main refrain seizes attention. Masterful songwriting. Track forward to the intense instrumental fusion of the drifting and rhythmic on “Rosh Pina”. Again, masterful stuff which could have graced a classic British album of the early Seventies. The to-the-point but impressionistic 50 exudes power.

America’s embracing of a wave of great British musicians is to be celebrated

It is also, despite Chapman’s constant productivity, a summing-up. Three of the ten US-recorded tracks are new compositions, while the remainder are reworkings of material from hard-to-find previous albums. Surprisingly, 50 holds together. The driver behind the revisitation is American guitarist and singer-songwriter Steve Gunn, who plays on the whole album (Chapman’s contemporary Bridget St John is a guest singer). Just as Jonathan Wilson worked with Roy Harper and Ryley Walker has collaborated with Bert Jansch associate Danny Thompson, other current American musicians are looking to artists who flowered in the pre-punk Britain of the Seventies for inspiration.

For Chapman, former Sonic Youth man Thurston Moore was the first of the new acolytes (Moore was drawn to Chapman’s feedback-style acoustic guitar). Furthermore, Chapman's old albums have been reissued by the hip American imprints Light in the Attic and Tompkins Square. With an album this good as a result, America’s embracing of a wave of great British musicians is to be celebrated.

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