BETH NIELSEN CHAPMAN – Hearts of Glass (BNC BNCCD006)

Hearts Of GlassHer twelfth solo album (she also released Liv On, a collection of healing songs with Olivia Newton-John and Amy Sky in 2016), this is her first new material since The Mighty Sky six years ago and also the first where she’s handed over complete control of production to someone else, namely Sam Ashworth.

Having said that, it’s not entirely new with several of the tracks being re-recordings from earlier albums or (as on the Uncovered album) things she’s written but never previously recorded herself, except this time arranged for guitar rather than piano. It is, though, the all new ‘Come To Mine’ that sets things in motion, a co-write with Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery from Chris Difford’s songwriting retreat in Somerset, an upbeat come together sentiment set to a catchy rolling rhythm and chorus that musically puts me in mind of Dar Williams’s ‘Mercy of the Fallen’.

Originally written for and recorded by Waylon Jennings on his Eagle album, ‘Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes’ , a song about the passing of time, duly opens with a pump organ and is taken a slightly more uptempo pace than his. Another previously unrecorded number can be found with the dreamy country ballad waltz ‘If My World Didn’t Have You’, first heard on Willie Nelson’s 1990 album Horse Called Music, here featuring Johnny Duke on electric guitar and Rodney Crowell on backing vocals.

Dating back to her second, self-titled, album that same year, ‘Life Holds On’ is transformed from the original punchy piano driven version to a slower, more reflective number, while from that same album also comes ‘Child Again’, the soulful, bluesy flavour still much the same except with classical guitar dominant rather than piano (though it’s still in evidence) along with Spencer Cullum Jr. on pedal steel.

There’s also two songs revisited from 1993’s You Hold The Key, first up being the breathily-sung ‘Rage On Rage’, stripped of its strings and, again, built around classical acoustic, courtesy of Duke, its dreamy Janis Ian-like slow waltz structure more apparent and coloured now with pedal steel, organ and doleceola and Ruby Manafu on backing. The other, which closes the album, as it did on the original, is an even more lovely reading of ‘Dancer To The Drum’, her hymn to the unknown path of life upon which each new child embarks, carrying with them the DNA of the past awaiting rebirth.

Perhaps the most radical transformation is the affirming ‘All For The Love’ from 2002’s Deeper Still, the original’s persistent, hypnotic clip clopping percussion replaced by a less intrusive drum beat, Chapman playing banjo and bandoneon as well as guitar and piano and minus the one-minute closing drone and keening wordless choral vocals.

The remaining songs are all new, ‘Epitaph For Love’, featuring Matt Slocum on cello, a fairly self-descriptive fragile ballad followed with a distinct mood contrast by the jauntily infectious bounce of a long lasting love that informs ‘Enough For Me’, its warm glow embellished by flugelhorns and multi-instrumentalist Sam Ashworth on whistles.

In similar swooning romantic mode, Chapman on electric piano, Ashworth brushing the drums, Mark Hill providing electric bass and Jeff Taylor on accordion, is the early hours slow dance jazz of ‘You’re Still My Valentine’, a number that sounds as though it was plucked from an album of forgotten standards.

At some point, it would be good to have a whole album of new material, but for now this is another tremendous addition to an already impeccable catalogue.

Mike Davies

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Artist’s website: www.bethnielsenchapman.com

‘Rage On Rage’ – official video:

Beth Nielsen Chapman announces new album

Beth Nielsen Chapman

Beth Nielsen Chapman’s brand-new studio album, Hearts Of Glass is a powerful collection of songs that dig deep into the place within us where vulnerability meets strength. Produced by Sam Ashworth, Hearts Of Glass is sparse and beautifully recorded. The songs, mostly written by Beth alone, include several new compositions, from the haunting ‘Epitaph For Love’ to the instant classic ‘You’re Still My Valentine’, to the infectious ‘Enough For Me’, written with Sam. The opening track, ‘Come To Mine’, the only other co-written song, was composed with the legendary Graham Gouldman and Kevin Montgomery at Chris Difford’s Songwriting retreat in Somerset England.

“My intention was to do an album of songs 100% written by me, and bring together those kinds of songs that have a certain focus and vibe, but ‘Come To Mine’ just jumped out and insisted on leading the pack!  It’s timely what with all that’s swirling around in the world right now. The same is true for the closing track ‘Dancer To The Drum’ which provides the perfect bookend” said Beth.

Hearts Of Glass also features several gems plucked from Beth’s previous releases that have been re-recorded, now moved from piano to guitar with minimal touches of production. ‘Life Holds On’, sounding like it could have been written yesterday, is just one stunning example of how the “less is more” approach reveals the power of these songs, stripped down to Beth’s voice and the pulsing of her electric guitar. The songs are front and centre, as is the case for ‘Rage On Rage’, ‘Dancer To The Drum’ and ‘Child Again’, each having been reborn. ‘Old Church Hymns & Nursery Rhymes’, recorded here for the first time by Beth, is a song she wrote for Waylon Jennings, released on his Eagle album and uses amazing imagery to capture the passing of time.

In addition, the first-time release of Beth’s version of the timeless classic ‘If My World Didn’t Have You’ features Rodney Crowell on backing vocals. This song first appeared on Willie Nelson’s Horse Called Music album along with her song ‘Nothing I Can Do About It Now’ which went to #1 for Willie in 1990.

Beth’s working with producer Sam Ashworth came about from a conversation with legendary broadcaster Bob Harris OBE, in which she mentioned she loved the recordings of duo The Civil Wars and was looking to record her new album with that kind of clarity and space. Bob suggested she meet up with the producer/artist Charlie Peacock. When Beth and Charlie’s schedules didn’t sync, Beth met with his son Sam, a young, talented producer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist and from their first meeting, Beth felt very confident that this was going to work.

“I made a decision early on in the process that this time I was going to fully allow myself to be produced and work on taming my inner ‘control freak’.”

From the selection of the songs to choosing of the musicians and the addition of overdubs, Beth deferred to Sam.

“Creatively this was very new territory for me. It was such an interesting dynamic to hand over so many of the decisions and trust the process. I found by not jumping in too quickly and directing, that I ended up not only with something I loved, but I learned a lot about myself and the places you can go when you let someone else drive.”

The places that Hearts Of Glass goes will take you right into the centre of the truth, and the full beautiful dance of contradictions that inhabit love and life.

Artist’s website: https://bethnielsenchapman.com/

‘Rage On Rage’ – official video: