Beth Nielsen Chapman and her crack Nashville band deliver a strong contender for Americana album of the year.
Beth Nielsen Chapman needs no introduction to admirers of fine songwriting–with 14 previous studio albums to her name, a 40 year career, and songs covered by artists including Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Keb’ Mo and Elton John her credentials are impeccable. Her song ‘This Kiss’, performed by Faith Hill, was ASCAP song of the year in 1999, gained her a Grammy nomination and Nashville NAMMY’s 1999 Songwriter of the Year award, and she was inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame in 2016.
Announcing the release of her 15th album ‘Crazy Town’ Nielsen Chapman tells that it represents something of a departure for her, in terms of overall sound and also in the recording process. “I let go more on this record than I have ever before in my recording experiences” she said, adding “I turned to Ray ( Kennedy, her producer) and said “put me together a slamming band”. And boy did he ever!”
The twelve songs on the album were recorded live in the studio, and though Neilsen Chapman originally planned to re-record her vocals and guitars separately she felt she couldn’t match the energy of those initial recordings.
This really shines through on the tracks–from opener ‘All Around the World’, and throughout the release, Neilsen Chapman’s songs and her band really sparkle, brimming with energy, and displaying her songwriting craft to its best advantage. With band and vocals straight in on the song’s chorus, its ‘we can do it together’ message is matched by its joyous spirit as she sings “All around the world today is a tidal wave of tears/It’s a piece of cake, it can only get better/Let the hurdy gurdy play it’s a wonder that we’re here/We got rules to break and mistakes to make/Take a leap of faith all around the world”.
If you need further evidence that Nielsen Chapman and her band had a ball when recording, ‘The Universe’ has this in spades, its introductory and repeating riff referencing ‘Last Train to Clarksville’, the assembled cream of Nashville rocking out, and clever phrasing by Nielsen Chapman allowing the wordy lyrics to fly, with their environmental message–including a rare reference to pachyderms in modern song!
‘Put a Woman in Charge’, originally written for Keb’ Mo, and recorded by him, delivers its powerful message over a driving beat, with gospel flavours, as Nielsen Chapman sings “Put a woman in charge…she’ll be a hero not a fool/She’s got power to change the rules/She’s got something men don’t have/She’s kind and she understands”.
Varied in tempo and themes, the albums tracks are united by Nielsen Chapman’s at once powerful and sensitive vocals. ‘With Time’ is a gorgeous piano led ballad, reminiscent in style of Ron Sexsmith, with hints of Carole King in Niesen Chapman’s vocals as she sings “Time is a river/It goes by so fast/You can’t catch the future/Or get back the past/Still there’s a lot of life to live/Still, there’s a lot of love to give”.
Album closing track ‘Walk You to Heaven’, co-written with Kimmie Rhodes and Mindy Smith, is a heartfelt goodbye to a loved one, “Farewell I will see you again I know/It’s not like we’re saying goodbye/We will meet again where the stars go/When they tumble like jewels from the sky”.
Hard to single out tracks on such a powerful album – which has enjoyed repeated listens – a strong contender for album of the year.