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:

ROGER KNOTT – Echoes In Time (Leg Room Records LEGCD116)

Echoes In TimeEchoes In Time is a slightly curious but very enjoyable blend of Englishness and Americana. All the instruments on Roger Knott’s ninth album (or possibly his thirteenth) were recorded by producer Thomm Jutz in Nashville while the vocals were recorded by Roger in England, which is where he lives. He is pigeon-holed as “country” but that seems rather restrictive. True, there’s fiddle, banjo and Dobro on the album, courtesy of Justin Moses but there is also accordion by Jeff Taylor.

Half the songs are written by Roger with the rest written or co-written by Gordon Irvine, about whom I know nothing. The opener, ‘Bridge’, has a very British-sounding lyric but Roger then moves on to Irvine’s civil war song, ‘Corduroy Road’ which is as country as you like. Before you ask, this is neither the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band song nor the one done by Heart being more literal and less metaphorical than either. It’s also a very good song.

Having established the parameters of his music, Roger mixes the two styles very effectively. ‘Echoes In Time’ is “seasons” song and the line about bluebells changing into sleigh-bells is saved only by the one about a child growing to begin “human racing”. ‘Drop Of Whisky’ is another of Irvine’s but less obviously country with Thomm Jutz’ guitar paired with the accordion.

The album returns several times to the theme of time’s passage. ‘Turn Back The Clocks’ is full of regret and thoughts we’ve all experienced while ‘Dig Infinity’ considers the process of evolution. ‘Evening Song’ looks forward and ‘Halfway There’ laments that our time is always too short. Isn’t that true?

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/rogerknottmusic/

CATHRYN CRAIG AND BRIAN WILLOUGHBY – In America (Cabritunes CAB008)

In AmericaIt’s difficult to write about In America, the latest album by Virginia-born singer Cathryn Craig and the British guitarist Brian Willoughby without sounding like a fan girl to the nth degree.

Many a night I’ve been in that state somewhere between awake and asleep with Craig’s rhapsodic vocals accompanied by Willoughby’s masterfully emotional playing coursing through my mind. I can only imagine that the duo is among the rare musicians that envelope themselves in their music, much as the Frank Sinatra embodied the lyrics, which he sang.

Although Mr. Willoughby and Ms. Craig have each extensively worked with A-list artists ranging from The Strawbs to Nanci Griffith and Chet Atkins, their work is as individual as their duo. Consider the album’s title track on which Ms. Craig’s voice takes on a rare ethereal quality that puts me in mind of the haunting vocals of the late Mary Travers of Peter Paul & Mary on such songs as “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine.” Yes, it’s that haunting.

And the beauty of her voice combined with Willoughby’s guitar mastery never falters as the duo works through a host of poignant songs including ‘These Old Stone Walls,” and “Whatever Is For You,” both ruminations on our lives’ journeys.

Joining the duo are a host of luminary musicians including Jeff Taylor (Vince Gill/Time Jumpers), Fran Breen (Waterboys, Saw Doctors), Dennis Bryon (Amen Corner/Bee Gees), Pat McInerney (Nanci Griffith, Doc Watson), Brent Moyer (Lynn Anderson), Andy Reiss (Reba McEntire/Time Jumpers), Ron de la Vega (Nanci Griffith), and Richard Bailey (Steeldrivers).

As you’d expect, the playing is superb and elegantly woven among the duo’s work thanks to engineer/producer Thomm Jutz.

Perhaps the superlatives in this review do put me in super fan territory but one listen to the new album by rare artists that infuse their music with heartfelt spirituality and you’ll be one, too.

Nancy Dunham

Artists’ website: www.craigandwilloughby.com

‘Malahide Moon’ – live: