Some explanation may be helpful here. Michael Chapman was between record companies when these two albums were recorded: Sweet Powder in 2008 and Wrytree Drift in 2010. Michael made them for his own production company, Rural Retreat Records with producer Alex Warnes in the familiar surroundings of Phoenix Studios and, perhaps, with the freedom to do something different.
Sweet Powder immediately settles into a groove with ‘In The Valley’ and ‘Hang On To A Dream’. There’s something very Dylanesque about Michael’s phrasing and emphasis on these songs that, if you’re a Dylan fan makes you feel very much at home. He’s mixed his own songs with covers and it’s an eclectic selection which means that the third track is the jazz influenced ‘I Thought About You’ and that later we have ‘Waiting For A Train’ followed by ‘Hi Heel Sneakers’. Of his own songs, this reworking of ‘Rabbit Hills’, originally from Fully Qualified Survivor, is a masterpiece with the guitar ebbing and flowing to echo the lyrics. If you didn’t know, Rabbit Hills is a playing field in Salford.
With the majority of these songs Warnes performed strange things with Michael’s guitar sound. For the most part they are wonderful although one or two seem a little unnecessary but there is a suggestion that Sweet Powder was a stepping off point for some of Michael’s later work. You can listen and make up your own mind.
Wrytree Drift is rather more straightforward. All but one of the songs are Chapman originals; the exception being Mose Allison’s ‘Parchman Farm’. Alex Warnes is alongside Michael again featuring on Hammond B3, keyboards and drum programming while handing some of the guitar effects over to Michael. The opener is ‘Another Story’, which starts out gentle and rolling but builds and builds before leading into the instrumental ‘Requiem’.
The album is dedicated to Jack Rose, who had died the previous year and ‘Requiem’ is one of the key pieces, full of pain and anger. ‘I Wish I Was A Twig’ refers to a band that Jack played with from time to time and the long, rather meandering ‘Two Trains’ is the tune Michael played at Rose’s memorial concert. In between comes a funky reworking of ‘Soulful Lady’ from Fully Qualified Survivor as Michael reaches into his back catalogue once more – ‘Blue Season’ and ‘Sunday Morning’ are also dusted off for this set.
Overall, Wrytree Drift is slanted towards instrumental tracks and while these can be very absorbing I prefer Michael Chapman in songwriter mode and rather less varnished than we find him here. On balance this is a good set but I know which half I’ll play most.
Label website: www.secretrecordslimited.com
Michael Chapman in company – ‘Another Story’ live on TV: