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: