MICHAEL CHAPMAN – Plaindealer / The Twisted Road (Mooncrest CRESTCD104)

Plaindealer / Twisted RoadThis double CD set brings together two of Michael Chapman’s later albums: The Twisted Road from 1999 and 2005’s Plaindealer. Oddly, Mooncrest choose to present them in reverse chronological order but, hey, you can listen to them in any way that pleases you.

Plaindealer opens with ‘Streamline Train’ written by Clarence Lofton and Red Nelson and taken by Michael from The Vipers. Their skiffle sound is replaced by Rod Clements’ bass and Ritchie Close’s keyboards driving that railroad groove. Michael’s familiar old hobo voice is in place for this one as it is for ‘Ramon And Durango’, a song with more Dylan references than you can shake a stick at.

‘Anniversary’ began life as a Rainmaker out-take which Michael had forgotten about until a live tape was unearthed (see Growing Pains). Here Michael reworks it into a ten-and-a-half minute epic featuring thumb piano and strange percussion – it’s amazing what a change thirty-five years can bring.  The second epic here is a long, slow reading of Woody Guthrie’s ‘Deportees’ featuring a ghostly steel guitar intro by Jeff Betsworth whose wonderful playing punctuates the track. The song is still relevant in this era of the hostile environment and zero-hours contracts.

There are two instrumentals: ‘Georgia Gibson’ – dedicated to a guitar, not a woman – and ‘Three Sisters’ on which Michael displays more of his sensitive side. The song based on George Bernard Shaw’s aphorism that “Youth Is Wasted (On The Young)’ is excellent and the closing ‘Bon Ton Roolay’ is an absolute delight. I’m not sure that I should be glad or sorry that the hidden track listed on at least one edition of the album has been omitted.

The Twisted Road begins with Michael on the road again finding himself at ‘Another Crossroads’ where “nothing means nothing at all”. That’s Jeff Betsworth’s steel guitar riding on top of the song again. The nihilism continues with ‘Sometimes’ with a delicious double-tracked vocal and Keith Warmington’s blues harp. ‘The Twisted Road’ is somewhat more positive but, as he reminds us, “I never said it would be easy”.

‘All Day, All Night’ is the final success for a song that Chapman had recorded several times before. ‘Memphis In Winter’ is a bitter road song (not a pun on my part) as Michael examines the death of the American dream – another excellent track with his band rock solid behind him. ‘That Time Of Night’ is about that time of night, if you know what I mean, with Michael’s simple but effective guitar solos immediately attracting the attention while ‘A Girl On A Train’ finds him spinning a story about a stranger he sees travelling he knows not where.

‘After All This Time’ is inspired by a chance meeting with his ex-wife – I believe that Michael still tells the story when introducing the song on stage – and failing to recognise her. It is remarkably tender. ‘Full Bottle, Empty Heart’ finds Michael on the road again, alone in bar as he is in ‘I Got Plans’ and between these he laments his inability to hang on to a woman in ‘Cowboy On A Beach’.

For a Yorkshireman, Michael Chapman is one of the finest exponents of Americana you can hope to hear on top of which he’s a very clever songwriter and a bloody fine guitarist. I haven’t heard a Chapman album I don’t like and you can add these two to that list.

Dai Jeffries

Label website: www.secretrecordslimited.com

‘Memphis In Winter’:

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